Best Served Cold: At least makes me FEEL something

Joe Abercrombie Best Served Cold fantasy book reviewsfantasy  book reviews Joe Abercrombie Best Served ColdBest Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

“Mercenaries are people, too.”

I won’t tell you about the plot of Best Served Cold since that’s been well done by Greg and Justin. Instead, I’ll tell you about the audiobook and how I liked the story.

I listened to Tantor Media’s audio version which was read by the excellent Michael Page. This was a great format except for one chapter (“To the Victors…”) in which Mr. Abercrombie meant for us to be surprised by who the principal actors were. In the text, section breaks indicate scene (and therefore character) changes. The audiobook reader, however, used the voices for the characters that Mr. Abercrombie meant for us to think were involved. When the trick was revealed, Mr. Page switched voices. This was confusing, especially since a listener can’t see the section breaks and realize that the scene kept changing. I had to go back and listen to it again. This wasn’t Mr. Page’s fault, though — just a limitation of the audio format. Other than this scene, the reading was terrific. I was impressed with the way that Mr. Page portrayed Shivers’ character development by subtly altering his voice as the story went on.

Speaking of characters, Shivers and Monza, the main characters (I don’t think we can call them “heroes”), evolve so gradually and realistically throughout the story that they are both quite changed at the end, but in a completely believable way. Looking back at their journeys is an interesting (and somewhat disturbing) thought exercise. It was fun to meet several familiar faces from The First Law trilogy. Greg was right — I just loved Nicomo Cosca. He’s complex, witty, and unpredictable. Nice piece of work, Mr. Abercrombie! Several of the characters are so keenly characterized that they become over-the-top (e.g., Morveer the poisoner keeps asking the same annoying questions of his assistant who is constantly eating) but at least they’re vivid. Friendly, the sociopathic savant, is so creepy that I actually got nervous every time he appeared.

Best Served Cold has an exciting plot and it’s clever and funny — mostly in the droll, ironic, black humor sort of way. For example, Monza pulls Cosca out of alcoholism… so he can murder people. Some of the scenes in which Morveer was trying to poison somebody bordered on slapstick and provided some hilarity to balance the story’s grimness.

I enjoyed the plot, characters, and humor in Best Served Cold, and I recognize and admire Joe Abercrombie’s talent, creativity, and passion. But the truth is that his stories stress me out. It’s sort of like watching Schindler’s List. Brilliant movie, important message (and there is a message in Best Served Cold), but not something I want to watch before bedtime. There’s a lot of ugliness and vulgarity — much of which seems to be done for shock value (e.g., cannibalism and incest) — and there are more characters who are sociopaths than who are normal. If there’s a crude word for something, Abercrombie uses it. Characters are constantly pissing, spitting, growling, bleeding, feeling sticky, and sucking on their sour teeth. They don’t make love, they fuck (with grunts and squelchy noises). They have tits, asses, cocks, and pricks (as far as I can tell, Mr. Abercrombie doesn’t know the polite terms). Battle and torture scenes are the worst — they literally give me headaches.

All of this makes for interesting, original, dramatic fantasy, and I completely understand why it’s so appealing. After all, Joe Abercrombie at least makes me FEEL something. But what he makes me feel is rather depressed, hopeless, and just plain icky, and I can’t say that I really LIKE feeling that way.

Best Served Cold — (2009) Publisher: Springtime in Styria. And that means war. There have beennineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. Armies march, heads roll and cities burn, while behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king. War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die. Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers anda Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started… Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge. BEST SERVED COLD is the new standalone novel set in the world of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy.

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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7 comments

  1. Very good Review, Kat. You’re dead-on and very good point about it stressing you out.
    As much as I loved this book and Abercrombie’s other books, I do have to say, he does cross that line way too often –almost made me feel like I needed a shower when I read it. But I honestly don’t know if I want him to tone it down or not. Not sure if it would be Abercrombie without it..

    But I do wonder what a book says about someone like me who enjoyed it so much… To quote, the movie Bad Santa “You [ I ] need many, many years of :censored: therapy”

  2. Thanks, Greg! Yeah — like I need a shower.

    The only thing that makes me smile when reading his books is the sincerely funny humor and irony. For me, it’s worth it for that, but even the humor is grim and dark and there’s nothing else there to make you feel good. I don’t need to feel good all the time, but a little redemption at the end would be a welcome relief. But Abercrombie never throws us a bone. I realize that other people may appreciate this though, since life doesn’t always throw us a bone.

  3. Well, without giving away the ending, -!EXTREMELY VAGUE SPOILER ALERT TO FOLLOW!- there was a little something that I thought had the potential of redemption at the end.

    But you are correct. Even in the First LAW Trilogy
    !ANOTHER VAGUE SPOILER ALERT!- the immediate enemy is defeated only to discover an even darker truth.

  4. As another fanlit Abercrombie fan, I thought your review captured the feeling perfectly….absolutely dead on. It took weeks of lighter material to wash out the Best Served Cold from my brain…lol…but I enjoyed it a great deal.

  5. This sounds like a great piece of work by Abercrombie. I am looking forward to getting this book and digging in. I have books here I need to get through first and his trilogy to finish before I get to this one, but really do look forward to it. Thanks!

  6. Melissa, buy a bottle of hand sanitizer, too. :-|

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