Francine's Reviews > Best Served Cold

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
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's review
Mar 17, 12

bookshelves: epic, modern-lit, fantasy, favorites, kindle
Read from February 21 to March 17, 2012

Revenge. Incest. Magic. Politics. Lots of battles. Swordplay galore. Returning minor characters from the earlier Abercrombie First Law series (including those morbid Eaters). What a fantastic novel! What else could anyone ask for? Ooh, recipes (or maybe, just suggestions for the foodies out there). To wit:

A rump steak, then, thick-cut and pan-fried. He always carried a special mix of Suljuk four-spice with him, crushed to his taste, and the oil native to the region around Puranti had a wonderful nutty flavour. Then salt, and crushed pepper. Good meat was all in the seasoning. Pink in the centre, but not bloody. Shenkt had never been able to understand people who liked their meat bloody, the notion disgusted him. Onions sizzling alongside. Perhaps then dice the shank and make stew, with roots and mushrooms, a broth from the bones, a dash of that old Muris vinegar to give it...


He nodded to himself, carefully wiped the sickle clean, shouldered the bag, turned for the door and...stopped.

He had passed a baker's earlier, and thought what fine, crusty, new-baked loaves they had in the window. The smell of fresh bread. That glorious scent of honesty and simple goodness. He would very much have liked to be a baker, had he not been...what he was. Had he never been brought before his old master....

How well that bread would be, he thought now, sliced and thickly smeared with a coarse pâté. Perhaps with a quince jelly, or some such, and a good glass of wine. He drew his knife again and went in through Lucky Nim's back for her liver. After all, it was no use to her now.

I really enjoyed the First Law series, so I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed this one, too. Best Served Cold was meant to be a stand-alone novel, with a main character who was not part of the original series. It was refreshing to focus on Monza, the intrepid heroine in this novel, and not have to come face-to-face with Glokta, Bayaz and Jezal so soon after reading the first three books back-to-back, especially since that series was pretty grim and gory (although I really do miss Logen). Still, some characters from the other series not only show up, but move front and center in this narrative: the Bloody-Nine hating Northman Caul Shivers, Bayaz's apprentice Yori Sulfur, mercernary extraordinaire Nicomo Cosca, fallen magistrate-turned-Glokta spy Carlot dan Eider, and ex-torturer Practical Shylo Vitari. Even good old King Jezal and Bremmer dan Gorst make brief appeareances (invariably setting up the fifth book in the series, The Heroes).

The writing was almost flawless -- it was amusing, fluid and captivating for the most part. Abercrombie still has a tendency to meander off every now and then, but he did it far less than in the first three books, and he rarely wandered too far, oftentimes reigning himself in and drawing his characters and readers back into the story. The characterization was strong; most of the characters were well-developed and three-dimensional. I found that much of the wry personal commentary Abercrombie imbued in Glokta was now taken over by the supercilious, self-aggrandizing, self-righteous Morveer. The hilarious half self-aware, half self-conscious observations made by Logen was now taken over by Shivers in the beginning, then by Cosca towards the end. The similarities between Logan and Shivers didn't end there, though: they had a joint liminal state, that of the Great Leveller. Just as the Bloody Nine was slowly introduced as Logen's "other self" (albeit his more destructive, psychotic, berzerker/schizophrenic self), Shivers too, transformed into a cold, furious, vengeful man once he accepted that part of him that had become the Great Leveller.

As with Abercrombie's first series, there were a host of dualities in this work: magic vs. science, faith vs. money, Gurkul vs. The Union, loyalty and vengeance. While magic was a major presence in The First Law, Best Served Cold makes the distinction that magic is a thing of the past and that science is firmly claiming its place in the world (as asserted by Morveer). Styria was ruled by economics, by gold and silver, by power and fear. Magic had no place in that world. Nevertheless, the war between Khalul and Bayaz still raged strong in Best Served Cold, only now, it's become obvious that their war is not merely a centuries-old disagreement about the way they chose to practice their art or about who was right and who was wrong, but it was also a war fueled as much by magic as it was about claiming which was stronger: faith or money. Khalul, as the Prophet, has his army of faithful (the magic-using Eaters), who believe in God while using Gurkish gold to further their causes. While we never see Bayaz in this book, he's all too present thanks to the ubiquitous Yori Sulfur and the banking house of Valint and Balk.

Finally, there's Monza herself. Strong, crazy, determined, plucky, nervy Monza. First things first: did she have an incestuous relationship with her brother? I think Abercrombie was purposely vague about that. He made it a point to say that Monza's reputation -- either as villain or hero -- was highly dependent on which side you were on and who was telling the story, and that includes stories about her and Benna. Regardless, what comes across is her immense love and loyalty to her only family. The beauty of it was that while it started and ended with her and her brother, along the way, that family grew to include Shivers, Vitari, Friendly and Cosca. While her quest for vengeance sometimes made me feel she was a one-note joke, she really wasn't. She wasn't one-dimensional; there was more to her than someone after revenge. She was scared, she was alone, she was trying to hold on to the one thing that she felt she had to do, even though she knew it would never bring her brother back. She started questioning her mission halfway through, and I must say, one of the things that I respected about her was the fact that she didn't turn back or give in. The woman's got guts; she had the chutzpah and the resolve to stick to her goal, even after it had lost its meaning.

All in all, this was an excellent book and would highly recommend it to anyone. Well, okay, maybe not my parents. But everyone else. It's really good!
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