Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book review: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Monzcarro Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the Butcher of Caprile, mercenary general of the Thousand Swords, the center of Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold, is not a woman to trifle with.  Feared and hated by her enemies and her rivals, beloved only by her brother, Benna, she has won a lot of battles for her employer, the Duke of Orso, moving him into a position of power and collecting a fortune for herself.  She is beautiful and ruthless, a deadly soldier, popular among the Duke's subjects.  When the Duke summons her and Benna, they go to his stronghold obediently, only to find themselves betrayed, Orso nervous that she might attempt to overthrow him.  Benna is murdered and Monza is very nearly killed as well, strangled and stabbed and beaten and thrown off the castle walls.  So much for loyalty.

Monza survives, somehow, rescued by a very strange and creepy fellow who sets her many broken bones and stitches her back together.  When she is healed (or mostly healed), she is but a shadow of her former self, scarred and aching, her sword hand mangled beyond use.  What is intact is her single-minded quest for vengeance and that focused fury drives her on.  She collects a motley team, including a murderer with a numbers fixation, the realm's best poisoner and his apprentice, a torturer, a besotted mercenary and a Northman who is trying to be a good man.  Once Monza has her crew in place, she goes after the seven men who betrayed her and killed her brother: the Duke, his two sons, his banker, a general in Orso's army, a mercenary and a thug.  One by one she sets them up to take them out in this bloody and exciting revenge fantasy.

As I mentioned before, Best Served Cold is a stand-alone novel set within Abercrombie's First Law universe. The order of the five books is the First Law trilogy, then BSC, then The Heroes.  I'm going at this rather backwards, having read the last novel first and the second to last one second; I promise that I will read the actual trilogy in order, although it hasn't really mattered in these stand-alones.  Except for one thing: the Northman who joins Monza's crew is Caul Shivers, a Very Scary Dude in The Heroes.  In BSC, we learn how Shivers goes from a talented fighter who wants to do the right thing to the one eyed, murdering beast.  I kind of liked having met him a the monster first, because it made his descent more interesting to me.

I loved Best Served Cold.  It is violent and bloody as hell, funny (although not quite as funny as TH) and fast-paced with betrayals, deceptions and double-crosses.  Monza Murcatto is not at all a nice person but she makes for a wonderfully flawed and interesting protagonist.  On the strength of these two novels I am fast becoming a huge Joe Abercrombie fan.  I cannot wait to get to the first volume of the First Law trilogy.

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