Book Review: ‘Best Served Cold’ by Joe Abercrombie

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, 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 employers 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 barbarian 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.

Gut-churning violence? Check. Constant action? Check. Complex characters? Check. Dark, ironic humour? You got it!

Best Served Cold might just be the best book Joe Abercrombie has written, yet. And that is saying a hell lot.

It is a crimson tale of vengeance, clandestine motives and plenty of surprises. The story takes place in Styria. The principal character Monza Murcatto and her younger brother Benna Murcatto are mercenaries in the service of Grand Duke Orso, Monza being his best. With her as the commander of his armies, the Duke has won most of the Styria and is on his way to kingship.

Monza Murcatto on the cover page
Monza Murcatto on the cover page

All goes well until Orso gets a whiff of treachery from Monza and her brother and then everything goes wrong. Benna is murdered and Monza is thrown from the mountain and left for dead.

She survives. But barely. Scarred and broken, she promises vengeance to herself for the murder of his brother and betrayal by Duke Orso. She vows to kill seven men, whatever the price – the Duke himself, his two sons, his bodyguard and a couple more co-perpetrators.

She assembles an unlikely squad to accomplish the task. Herself, a northern barbarian with a talent of killing (you know him if you are acquainted with the First Law trilogy), a hulking convict with an inclination towards counting everything, a skilled poisoner & his gormandising apprentice, a torturer (you know her very well, too) and finally, my favourite character in the novel, a chameleonic  mercenary, prone to inebriation – Nicomo Cosca, who had been betrayed by none other than Monza before the events of the novel; she took his place as the leader of his mercenaries in Duke Orso’s employment before the events of the novel.

Thus, our little team goes on to take the revenge for Monza. After the betrayal, vengeance becomes the primary life-force for Monza. She lives it, eats it and breathes it. When she finally starts achieving success in her retribution quests, however, she recognises the cost it comes with and the futility of the whole thing as the deaths of her enemies she’d planned long before gives her no satisfaction at all. But she persists.

Writing is superb with vivid and gory fight sequences, great dialogues and rich with dry humour. Action is brutal, relentless and without a pause. Characters are strong and multi-dimensional. Story is full of twists and surprises. This is simply the most perfect book by Abercrombie. He seems to be getting better with every book.

“You were a hero round these parts. That’s what they call you when you kill so many people the word murderer falls short.”

Closing words: If you like Abercrombie’s books, you can’t go wrong with ‘Best Served Cold’. It is as funny, as vicious and as cynical as any Abercrombie book. In my opinion, the best he has ever written.

Rating: 5/5

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