The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is one of the most powerful and genre defining series I have ever read in my life. I have a policy about not speaking of the First series, as I believe it is something everyone should discover for themselves to have the maximum impact while reading it. That being said, I highly recommend that if you find yourself at the end of The Last Argument of Kings, and clamouring to get your hands on another book in the First Law world, that you take a short hiatus before diving back in. Best Served Cold is a great book, but not one for someone looking for a light and happy tale. There are three stand alones in the world of The First Law – Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country. I read Red Country a while ago and found it… fine. It certainly wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t quite live up to the standard I expected of Joe. Best Served Cold is a different story. Best Served Cold is quintessentially Abercrombie, a dark and gritty tale in a fantasy world with the harsh bleakness of reality pumping through its veins. The book is a revenge story to boot, if that was not clear from the title, so if you are expecting a happy ending turn back now.
Our story follows Monza Murcatto, dashing and charismatic mercenary leader, and her story to claim the lives of seven men who betrayed her. Our book opens right away with Monza getting figuratively shafted, emotionally destroyed, and physically crippled. I think it does a good job setting the stage and tone for what you are in for in the rest of the book. Monza, stripped of her assets and fighting prowess, must enlist the services of an unlikely group of strangers to accomplish her goals. The story moves from area to area as she stalks and murders her prey, culminating in a final showdown with the ultimate man behind her betrayal.
First let’s talk about the good. If you are looking for more of world of The First Law, this will definitely give you your fix. Although the cast is almost entirely new from the first books, Best Served Cold keeps tabs on the old crew while also fleshing out the world more as a whole. Speaking of casts, as usual Abercrombie has crafted another set of incredible characters. They are the driving power behind this book and I am pretty sure that Joe could have sat them in a bar talking for 600 pages and I still would have enjoyed it a lot. The book is incredibly well paced, with every vengeful murder carried out in unique, exciting, and interesting ways. The growth and transformation of the characters is incredible, with every character of Monza’s crew changing with each passing death. Abercrombie is one of my top writers for action, and Best Served Cold is no exception. The fight scenes will have you on the edge of your seat, fingernails piercing through the arms of your chair, and screaming in exhilaration with each sword strike. The plot is brilliant, and surpassed all my expectations, and it is fair to say this might be Joe’s single strongest piece of work to date (though I have not read The Heroes).
Except, here’s the thing. If you read my post on The Burning Isle a week or so ago, you might have heard me say that revenge stories are really, really hard. Revenge is a hollow and ruinous goal; it won’t make you happy and it certainly will make other people sad. Due to this, it is hard to write a revenge story that isn’t cripplingly depressing (The Count of Monte Cristo is an example of one that gets the balance perfect). So I went into a Abercrombie book about revenge expecting to probably find it was sadder than I wanted to be. However, it was even more dark and bleak than I imagined and Best Served Cold depressed me so much that it’s taken me about a month to force myself to sit down and organize my thoughts on it.
Best Served Cold is definitely one of the best books I read this year, but I am not sure how much I can recommend it. A lot of that has to do with the fact that for me it has overall been a pretty depressing year in reality, and while I don’t need my books to be sunshine and rose petals, this felt a bit like a gut shot. Abercrombie is an artist with a pen, but I think I am going to build myself back up a bit before I return to his work to watch him tear me down.
Rating: Best Served Cold – 9.0/10