Just finished Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold, and it’s easily my favorite entry from an excellent fantasy writer.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Abercrombie, he’s known for a gritty, character-driven style of fantasy in the vein of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. He published his first novel in 2007, entitled The Blade Itself. Since then, Abercrombie has written a novel a year, most recently The Heroes in 2011. Another entry is due out sometime this year, tentatively titled A Red Country.
The thing I love about Abercrombie’s books are his characters. Those who read his First Law trilogy are probably already familiar with a few, but there are plenty of newcomers in Best Served Cold as well.
Beware. Here there be spoilers.
My favorite of the new characters is definitely Caul Shivers. Not completely new, as he is introduced in Before They Are Hanged, if I’m not mistaken. But he’s certainly expanded upon throughout this new entry. I found his character arc quite compelling, going from a man seeking a better life to a bitter warrior with nothing left to lose or gain.
I noticed a few reviewers were concerned with Shivers’ striking similarity to Logen Ninefingers, a fan favorite of First Law fame, and I can’t deny that they are indeed very similar. However, I found that the similarities work well, lending a sense of stinging irony to the book. Shivers proclaims his hatred for Ninefingers numerous times, (after all, Logen did kill his brother) and yet he mirrors his most hated enemy’s character arc, almost to a tee.
That said, I found the main character of Best Served Cold, Monza Murcatto, a bit underwhelming. She reminded me more than a little of Ferro Maljin, yet another character from The First Law, but not in a particularly good way. While Shivers and Ninefingers are tragic mirrors of one another, Murcatto is more like a retread of Maljin. Even their love stories seemed recycled. (In The First Law, Ferro falls in love with Ninefingers, then they end up hating each other by the end. In Best Served Cold, Monza and Shivers fall for each other, and by the end, they hate each other too.) I liked Monza a little more than Ferro, but they were still a bit too similar for my tastes.
As for the other characters, I found Nicomo Cosca to be a wonderful return. His odd combination of cowardice and wit entertained me throughout. The institutionalized convict Friendly was another of my favorites. Such a strange fellow, and his duel with Shivers toward the end was epic. Castor Morveer was another welcome addition. He was funny and interesting, with a hint of tragedy, just enough so that you felt bad when he died. Well, I don’t know about you, but I did.
As far as the story, I found it engaging, though perhaps a bit on the long side. The murder of Prince Ario in the brothel was by far my favorite of the seven assassinations, and I felt that none of the others afterward approached that level of excitement.
Best Served Cold is an excellent addition to any fantasy collection. Well drawn characters, a well realized world, and plenty of gory action all combine to make one hell of an adventure.