Springtime in Styria. And that means war.
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, and 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. . .
Joe Abercrombie is known throughout the fantasy circles for his grit, viscous, and grimdark scenes with his characters. Whenever you perceive a line in the sand, he will cross it every time with a devious smile. Best Served Cold takes the typical revenge tale and puts it on steroids and no amount of pain, tragedy, or opposing forces will stand in the way. Although the fourth book in the First Law World, Best Served Cold is a standalone novel that works pretty well as an entry point into the First Law World. I would not recommend starting here however as the backstory of several characters would be missing. This is a true grimdark story and if you are a reader who is not comfortable reading about blood, war, torture, and death scenes then please turn away now as this will not be for you.
The title Best Served Cold dates back to the 18th century when a French Diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754–1838) has been credited with the saying, “La vengeance est un met que l’on doit manger froid” [“Revenge is a dish that must be eaten cold”]. Let that be the tone for how the rest of the story is going to play out. The story begins with Monza Murcatto, also known as the Snake of Talons being hired as a mercenary to fight in a war for Duke Orso. Her victories have ensured popularity and fame among the citizens of Styria. When Monza is called upon to Duke Orso’s home with his 6 most trusted advisors, Monza is betrayed and left for dead, bloodied, and crippled. When being nursed back to health, Monza has a devious plan in the works to exact her revenge but she will need the help of a poisoner, a murderer, and a Northman. I could go into more detail but I don’t want to spoil any of the fun especially for fans of the First Law Trilogy.
The story itself is split into seven parts with each one dealing with the tasks and missions of our characters to take down each member who betrayed Monza. Throughout the story, there are several references and little Easter eggs to the original trilogy. Also present in this book are several flash back chapters from Monza’s perspective fighting in the war with her brother Benna. These chapters give us an understanding for the military genius and brutal killer Monza had become prior to her betrayal. The thirst for vengeance is one that can and will drive even the most purest of souls to the edge of madness. The lengths and sacrifices Monza will go through for revenge were both shocking and difficult to read about. The edge of a blade will cut both ways in Best Served Cold, just make sure you are on the right side when all is said and done.
Best Served Cold was the first true grimdark novel I read and I have no interest in turning back. Joe Abercrombie’s work with characters and the grim atmosphere he puts those characters in, very few authors can accomplish such a feat. Of all the books Abercrombie has published, Best Served Cold remains to this very day my favorite entry in the First Law World. Tales of revenge have been around for decades, but I promise you have read one quite like this.