Verhoeven's "Flesh + Blood" meets "Hang 'em High" in the most entertaining fantasy novel since Game of Thrones. This is the fourth novel set in Joe AbVerhoeven's "Flesh + Blood" meets "Hang 'em High" in the most entertaining fantasy novel since Game of Thrones. This is the fourth novel set in Joe Abercrombie's First Law world, but it isn't tied so closely to the preceding trilogy that one can't enjoy it as a stand-alone. Honestly, as good as that trilogy was, Best Served Cold eclipses it.
When I was a teenager I read about Italian mercenaries in the late Middle Ages and how they fought (or pretended to fight) for the gold of families like the Sforza, the Medici, the Malatesta. The mercenaries themselves were a colorful, faithless lot, with names like Gattamelata (honey-cat), Castricani (dog-castrator) and other evocative monikers. I always meant to write about them one day, and still might do, but Mr. Abercrombie has beaten me to it with this deliciously dark, wonderfully funny fantasy masterpiece.
Styria in the Years of Blood is not unlike Italy circa 1500; a land without a king, a land where powerful city-states vie for prominence. Echoes of Florence, Milan, Venice and Rome aren't hard to find in the fascinating cities of Talins, Visserine and Sipani; but Abercrombie has done far more than shuffle and rename–his world is not a clone of ours; merely a cousin with shared cheekbones, a similar smile, and, regrettably, exactly the same appetites.
Of course, world-building without story is as dead as faith without acts, and this book lives. Monza Murcatto is a mercenary commander, a woman of great martial skill and frightful determination, more loyal than most of her greedy, fickle colleagues. She's not a woman you want to find yourself across a battlefield from, and she's the last person you'd want to betray and leave for dead. When mighty Duke Orso of Talins does exactly that, he sets in motion a revenge story that takes the reader on a Lonely Planet: Styria adventure with an obsessive-compulsive murderer, a bitter northern warrior, a single mother assassin, an insufferably superior poisoner and the most charmingly duplicitous mercenary commander in the annals of fantasy. Honestly, except for a supernatural djinn-like "Eater" or two, this hardly reads like fantasy. You will find a refreshing dearth of dragons in Best Served Cold, but a great abundance of economically drawn character, twisty but rock-solid plot structure, beautifully quotable prose, bloody but plausible action sequences, needle-sharp gallows humor, and that rare, unnameable "it" factor that distinguishes great stories from merely good ones. You'll know what I'm talking about when you read it. Just fucking read it....more
Haunting. Two lonesome older residents of a small Colorado town, both of whom have survived their spouses, decide to start spending their nights in thHaunting. Two lonesome older residents of a small Colorado town, both of whom have survived their spouses, decide to start spending their nights in the same bed, platonically, at first. Their pragmatism, honesty and decency elevate them beyond the reach of their judgmental community, but not beyond the petty tyrannies of family. Unimpeachably spare but elegant prose and a frank look at aging, solitude, disappointment, redemption and the never-ending politics of sexuality make this a quick read you may take a while to process. The author passed away not so very long ago, and we are poorer for it. A splendid, graceful story and an exemplary short novel. ...more
If you've read my last two novels, you'll guess I prefer my vampires brutal, mean and unrepentant. That's true. Except when it isn't. I didn't expectIf you've read my last two novels, you'll guess I prefer my vampires brutal, mean and unrepentant. That's true. Except when it isn't. I didn't expect to enjoy Ms. Bauer's novel because it just didn't sound like my cup of sake, and I told her as much when she asked me to review it. Guess what! I had fun reading it. Big fun. I feel a little embarrassed here, like I'm a Harley Davidson guy giggling and riding a moped down the beach, hoping nobody from my club sees me. But it's a damn fine moped, and I forbid you to mock me, O dark lord of gothic evil, until you man-bun your bottle-black locks, put on your Vespa goggles and climb on. Just try not to like it. I dare you. Bite Somebody is the Pretty in Pink of vampire stories; fun, self-consciously retro and not afraid to be goofy. I’ll never get the phrase 'Woodsy BO' out of my head. Kudos to Sara Dobie Bauer for knowing how to keep even a cranky old bastard of a reader smiling, and five stars just for the balls on her for asking me to read a chick-lit vampire book....more