Grimdark isn’t my thing. I prefer my fiction hopeful, with good at its heart even when bad things happen. That being said, I’ll give anything a shot if it’s well crafted, and I’ve read some pretty incredible fantasy novels that throw hope out the window and bask in their darkness. The best in the grimdark business has to be Joe Abercrombie, hands down. He has a way of creating characters and plots that really shouldn’t work for me, but that shine in spite of their dark cores. I loved the First Law trilogy enough that I was actually hesitant to read the standalones set in the same world, because I didn’t see how Abercrombie could possibly top or even match the greatness he achieved with that original plot and cast of characters. I needn’t have doubted him. In Best Served Cold, Abercrombie not only gives us a compelling plot but a wonderfully engaging cast of new and returning characters.
“Good steel bends, but never breaks. Good steel stays always sharp and ready. Good steel feels no pain, no pity, and above all, no remorse.”
Monza Murcatto is out for vengeance, both for her nearly-murdered self and her completely murdered brother. She was at the top of her career as a mercenary general when she was betrayed, and she won’t stop until all seven of the men in attendance during said betrayal are dead and back in the mud. Monza is a badass but she is far from perfect. In a way, she reminded me of a female Glotka who was able to keep her looks despite her scars. She’s relentless, even when it’s to her own detriment. She’s halfheartedly battling addiction which leads to making poor choices and trusting the wrong people. And they come back to haunt her.
“You were a hero round these parts. That’s what they call you when you kill so many people the word murderer falls short.”
The return of so many familiar side characters from the original trilogy made me really happy. I won’t list names because the very fact that they survived Last Argument of Kings could be a spoiler. But every time a familiar face was presented it brought a smile to my face. While I loved the returning characters and Monza, a new addition to the fray really won my heart. And his name is Friendly. I would happily read a dozen books about Friendly. He was just precious. In a dark way, of course; the man has no problem killing people. Still, I found him incredibly unique and charming. He’s number one in my book.
“That was the difference between a hero and a villain, a soldier and a murderer, a victory and a crime. Which side of a river you called home.”
Abercrombie is truly a master of characterization. None of these characters were in any way truly good at their core. They’re morally varying shades of gray, with some edging scandalously close to black. And yet I still found myself rooting for them. As I stated earlier, I prefer stories and characters that are at least tinted with goodness, if not permeated by it. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that I am perfectly willing to abandon fictional morality so long as Abercrombie is at the helm. The man can make even the vilest of villains somehow sympathetic, and I truly care what happens to each and every one of them.
“Sometimes men change for the better. Sometimes men change for the worse. And often, very often, given time and opportunity . . . They change back.”
Plot wise, this story is much smaller scale than that of the original trilogy. It’s about revenge, pure and simple. And yet, through this smaller scale plot we see so many strands of that original, huge and overarching plot come into play and tie into this new story in various ways. I love how Abercrombie was able to bring so many of those elements together while still maintaining this novel’s own plot, and ensuring that said plot line always stayed in the spotlight.
“One cannot grow without pain. One cannot improve without it. Suffering drives us to achieve great things.”
While Abercrombie is highly (and deservedly) praised for his characterizations, I feel that his actual craftsmanship is oft overlooked. The man can seriously write. There are dozens upon dozens of tiny and thoughtful writing decisions that really made the book for me. It can be something as simple as the repetition of sounds, like slap-slapping during sex or how different shoes click-clicked or squeak-squeaked down a hallway. For some reason, those little choices really stood out to me. Also, Abercrombie is the king of the entertaining segue. I love how so often, either a line of dialogue or internal monologue is both the last bit of one character’s perspective and the first line of the next. What this did was ensure that the segues not only didn’t detract from the story, but actually added to it. There are so many small but intentional additions to the prose that elevates this book from merely a good story to a beautifully crafted piece of fiction.
“The dead can forgive. The dead can be forgiven. The rest of us have better things to do.”
I honestly have so much respect for Abercrombie as an author, and for the world that he has created. While it’s bloodier and more political and a lot more gray than what I generally gravitate towards in my fictional forays, I can see Abercrombie and his First Law World gaining a place among my favorites. In this novel, he showed the truth of the title; revenge truly is a dish best served cold. I’ve now come to the conclusion that, if Abercrombie wrote it, I really need to read it. And I’m going to get right on that.
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