Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Best Served Cold

In the mood for a tale of brutal revenge?  Joe Abercrombie's standalone fantasy novel, Best Served Cold will quench your thirst like a cold beer on a hot summer day.

Monza Murcatto is a soldier of fortune, and her mercenary company, The Thousand Swords, are the best in the business.  For the last few years, she's been winning some key victories for Duke Orso of Talins as he conquerors his way towards a crown.  Murcatto's many victories have made her popular with the common folk...too popular.  Fearing Murcatto will launch a coup and overthrow all that Orso has worked for, the Duke stages a slick betrayal that leaves Murcatto's brother dead, and herself stabbed, chucked off a mountain, and left for dead. 

Murcatto escapes death, and after some serious mending is left with a broken and rickety body.  The mental and physical pain of the ordeal is nothing compared to her all encompassing thirst for vengeance, a thirst that can only be slaked by the blood of the seven people responsible for her betrayal.

In many ways Best Served Cold is a simple novel; Seven sections that detail the efforts to slay one of the seven people responsible for Murcatto's betrayal.  Sure, that would be an accurate way to describe the novel, but if Best Served Cold was just about Murcatto killing off seven dudes, it would feel like a shitty action flick.  Luckily, Abercrombie is one of the best in the business and he fills his tale with some highly memorable characters.

The seven people responsible for Murcatto's betrayal are seven of the most powerful people in the country and it would be silly to think that Murcatto could knock them all off by herself.  In need of assistance, she assembles an entertaining collection of rogues and villains to help her achieve her bloody goals.  While all these characters are very interesting and well developed, I found Friendly, a former convict who is obsessed with numbers, and Nicomo Cosca, Murcatto's former general who she betrayed in order to steal his job, my two favorites.  

All the characters in Best Served Cold have some dark pasts, and along the way it seems that many of them would change due to the events of the story.  I found the progression of the character arcs to be one of the more interesting qualities of the book, though the results make me wonder what dark visions of human nature Abercrombie possesses.

Since Murcatto decided to take her revenge one person at a time, the story had a bit of the ol' caper feel to it. The only difference being that they would set up an elaborate plan to kill someone rather than snatch a bunch of jewels.  As I read, I found myself thinking of other caper tales like the Ocean's Eleven movies and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, except Best Served Cold is bloodier, ballsier, and better. 

My copy of Best Served Cold weighs in at a hefty 880 pages but the book never felt like a slog because the story plows along and more often than not left me gasping for air with all the goings on.  This wasn't like other fat fantasy novels where it feels like the author needed a better editor.  Despite the size, the plotting is nice and crisp. 

After having read and loved Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy I had a feeling he was heading for fantasy writing greatness. Best Served Cold pretty much cements the fact that Abercrombie is one of the best in the business.  I can easily say that Best Served Cold is one of my favorite fantasy reads of the year so far.  I highly recommend this one.  Abercrombie  is rapidly becoming one of my favorite fantasy novelists, and I'm looking forward to when I can get my mitts on his most recent effort, The Heroes.  If you haven't gotten around to Abercrombie's works by all means, get to it.

Grade: A

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