“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.