Thursday, February 28, 2019

17. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold is the one-shot follow-up to the First Law trilogy that I quite enjoyed.  Like the first volume in that series, my brother-in-law gave me this one for xmas.  It is a phat phantasy of the new, grim, modern mold, very epic but also quite raunchy, violent and cynical. 

I won't go too far into the plot, as that task is best left to other more nerd-focused websites.  Suffice it to say that this story takes place on Styria, an island of competing city states. At the beginning of the book,  The book begins with Monza Murcatto captain general of a mercenary army and her brother Benna, paying a visit to the Grand Duke Orso for whom they have come close to defeating most of the other cities in Styria and made him the king of the island.  I really feel like I should leave it there.  If you are a fan of the other books or at all interested, just stop reading here and wait until you get the book and just read it.

It does happen at the very first few pages, so it isn't totally a spoiler, but the Grand Duke, worried about Monza's efficacy and popularity, betrays her and her brother.  The latter is killed and she is almost killed.  Both are thrown from the high tower to certain death, but she miraculously survives, though badly damaged and begins her quest for revenge.

There is a lot of good stuff in Best Served Cold.  The structure is very clever and satisfying.  There were 7 people in the room when she and her brother were betrayed, and she vows to kill all 7 of them.  She puts together a motley band of compatriots, each of which is quite fun and entertaining on their own.  Each chapter takes place in a different city with a single target for the revenge.  So as the book goes on, you learn a bit more about Monza's back story, the politics, history and geography of Styria (the design of the book really helps where you get a bit more of the map on each chapter intro page).

The guy at Dark Carnival told my brother-in-law that this one was better than the First Law trilogy.  I really enjoyed Best Served Cold, but still preffered the trilogy.  Abercrombie is really great at characters and ironic narratives associated with their traits.  You get a lot of those here, but I find they are more satisfying when they are drawn out.  Also, the backstory in the trilogy is subtler and more complex, with a lot of info missing that keeps things mysterious. Here, it is made clear by the end who the big forces are and the conflict is fairly binary, which is less interesting.  A lot of that is a function of the form of a single book, so I am not really complaining.  In many ways, the tightness of the setting and plot may make this a favourite for other readers.  This one is straight-up funnier too, especially with the dialogue of certain characters. It's quite grim and brutal, almost too much by the end, but redeems itself with very clever plotting.  Just a lot of fun.

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