Review: Best Served Cold (First Law World #4) by Joe Abercrombie


Rating: 10/10

Synopsis

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.

Review

“You should laugh every moment you live, for you’ll find it decidedly difficult afterward.” 

The continuation of The First Law series and falling in love with Joe Abercrombie’s brutal and merciless narrative evolved further in Best Served Cold.  A tale of revenge, murder, and carnage over several countries.  Reading the first lines in this spectacular standalone felt like coming home.  The landscape was different but the characters were cut from the same cloth as before.  The throwback references to the first three books had me willing and ready to have my guts spilled out because let’s face it, an Abercrombie book does just that.

Gritty and dark, Best Served Cold introduces us to a very different female character, Monza Murcatto.  A mercenary with dark deeds in mind.  She is an incredibly unlikeable character.  She’s not meant to be wife material, she won’t fetch your pipe and slippers, she’s more likely to slit your throat where you stand.  It was an interesting standpoint of having a female lead character in a grimdark story.

The events in Best Served Cold occurred approximately two years after the conclusion of the Last Argument of Kings.  The book opens with a monumental bang.  Monza Murcatto has been betrayed by Grand Duke Orso in the worst kind of way.  He has her brother killed and they believe that she is too after throwing her down a mountain.  She is now a cripple.  Her bones have had to be reconstructed, she is left with unbearable pain and scantly able to walk.  Her days as a captain are long behind her.  However, she only has one mission left in life and that is to make Grand Duke Orso and his men pay – with blood, sweat, and tears.  These scenes tell us all you need to know about Abercrombie – he is ruthless.  He is capable of transporting me into a war-torn landscape with no protection… I loved it! 

“One cannot grow without pain. One cannot improve without it. Suffering drives us to achieve great things.”

Murcatto brings together a merry band of questionable assassins.  Shivers, Friendly, a master poisoner, his apprentice, and finally a much loved old name, Nicomo Cosca.  This is always where Abercrombie’s books fly.  The characterisation is his strongest skill, characters that are overcome with grief and anger and react without thinking.  His examination of the human condition is one of the best I have witnessed in fiction.  All characters had a voice, their backgrounds, and personalities that developed and grew despite cataclysmic events.  Things escalated quickly and the pacing in this story absconded away from me before I was ready. 

Nicomo Cosca made this book everything for me.  I adored him in the first books and getting that extra insight made all his actions click into place.  He acts the way he does due to betrayal and hurt.  He has a drinking problem to blot out that hurt, he isn’t a bad guy but bad things do ultimately happen to him.  The battle scenes, as always, are cinematic and intrinsic.  You are there fighting alongside these characters,  you feel the axes flying past your head, you see war-torn landscapes surrounding you, decapitated bodies.  The blood is spraying in front of you but the urge to be immersed in it all is palpable. 

Once again Abercrombie astounds his readers with his no holds barred imagination.  The master of Grimdark himself proves once again that his attention to detail is his greatest skill.

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