Joe Abercrombie is the new master of dark, gritty, realistic fantasy, and Best Served Cold might well be the masterpiece that represents that subgenre. Monza Murcatto is a renowned and very successful mercenary … or was until she was stabbed, beaten, and thrown from a mountainside by her employer. Monza wants revenge, so she contracts a party of unsavory characters to aid her. Monza’s story goes from dark to black to “a wet match in the bottom of a dark cave” — everyone suffers, lots of people die, and the trail of blood and tragedy that Monza leaves in her wake is unprecedented.
Abercrombie takes what appears to be a simple tale of revenge and twists it into a sanguine journey of self-discovery on the part of each character. The heart of Best Served Cold is how Abercrombie strips our “heroes” down to their core and reveals who they truly are. No other author I’ve found works so hard to create likeable characters out of such nasty individuals. Best Served Cold is exceedingly well-written, so I have to give it 5 stars. It really is a great work.
Reading Joe Abercrombie is always bittersweet for me — I know I’m going to get an amazing story with unique characters told in Abercrombie’s special way. But the wonderful writing comes with a price: you change a little. His books have altered my perception of fantasy literature. Before, I was blissfully unaware of how truly brutal and tragic fantasy can be. Sure, George R.R. Martin loves to kill off his main characters, but I never had any doubt that I was observing his story from the outside. In contrast, Abercrombie brings you in: I feel the character’s spirit break in the hands of the torturer. I know that the person on page 112 has become someone else by page 113, and it makes me sad. There is no redemption — no “making it up” later — they’re irrevocably changed. It’s a very real and unsettling thing for a reader to experience, and it’s a feeling that’s not commonly found in the fantasy genre. I have a love-hate relationship with Joe Abercrombie’s books. I will most certainly continue to read them — they are just too incredible not to. But I need something exceedingly optimistic to read afterwards.
Best Served Cold is technically a stand-alone novel, but I would highly recommend reading The First Law trilogy first because I get the feeling of an overall “Big Picture” taking place in this world. Read Best Served Cold if you are ready to challenge your thoughts about fantasy literature. Do not read Best Served Cold if you like your fantasy to be a pleasant escape from the harsh realities of life.