Springtime in Styria. And that means war. Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.
There have been nineteen 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. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, 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, thrown down a mountain 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 and a 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 a thrilling and heartbreaking journey of revenge that reads like a Tarantino movie. Expect blood and guts, love and betrayal, and witty banter aplenty. Not everyone is getting out of this book alive.
After reading The First Law trilogy, I was obviously impressed with Joe Abercrombie. I was skeptical that his other books could be as good, so I tabled Best Served Cold for about a year to give it some time to stand on its own. I’m glad I did, because Best Served Cold is very much its own bloody beast, and while it occurs and is influenced by events from The First Law trilogy, it stands on its own in style and story.
Monza Murcatto is a compelling main character, very much out of her element. Used to being feared and respected by rulers across the whole of Styria, Orso’s betrayal leaves her broken and battered in a literal pile of trash. She has been wronged, her brother murdered, and Monza wants the blood of the seven men party to her betrayal. The blood of her enemies will never bring her brother back, but it will help her feel better… right?
Out for vengeance on Orso, Monza assembles a team straight out of the gutters of Styria. Some faces are familiar, like the swarthy general-brigand-mercenary-thief-drunkard Nicomo Cosca. Others are new, like the infamous and narcissistic poisoner Castor Morveer, or the numerologically-obsessed inmate and mass murderer Friendly. With no small bit of money and guile, Monza pulls miscreants together to bring down Orso’s kingdom. (did anyone else think that Christoph Waltz would play a fantastic Morveer?)
As a wise man once said, “Before beginning a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” Best Served Cold explores the idea of revenge to the nth degree. Monza’s relentless quest for Orso’s head is justified and right in her mind, but do her ends justify the means? Murder after murder, working her way down her list, Monza finds that perhaps she isn’t as hard or as brutal a killer as she once thought.
One man I haven’t mentioned yet is Caul Shivers. In The First Law I thought Shivers was honestly a useless character that only served to make Logen Ninefingers seem like a baddie. Shivers is brilliantly-written in Best Served Cold, and I found myself wishing that he could finally turn that corner and become the man he wanted to be, the idealized “good man” that he held in his mind. As for the outcome, I’ll let the story speak for itself. Shivers’s dynamic with Monza was a lot of fun to read, really with each of them going on opposite journeys across the morality spectrum.
My favorite scene was everything at Cardotti’s House of Leisure. The whole setup, escalation, and bloody result of this chunk of the book was fantastic and reminded me of the basement bar scene in Inglorious Basterds. The way that Abercrombie methodically lines up the dominoes then topples them all over was a lot of fun to read, with layers upon layers of social miscues, miscalculations, misunderstandings, and vendettas that all congeal into a chaotic slaughter.
Now that I’m writing the review, I think I enjoyed Best Served Cold more than any of The First Law books. Abercrombie’s setup and execution were all really strong in BSC, and the characters were all unique and compelling at every turn. I will say that the ending is bittersweet, but most good endings are. I hope to see more from this unique cast of characters in future books!
Side note: Steven Pacey KILLED IT on the narration. I highly recommend the audiobook. There aren’t many narrators that I can tell the character by just hearing their voice, but Steven Pacey is one of them. Fantastic stuff.