Best Served Cold
by Joe Abercrombie
512pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.94/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.23/5

Best Served Cold is a stand alone novel by Joe Abercrombie set in the same world as his First Law trilogy with a different set of main characters. It takes place sometime after the end of the series, although I’m not sure exactly how much time has passed other than it must have been at least a couple of years. Although I enjoyed the First Law trilogy, I preferred Best Served Cold since it seemed tighter and better paced, for the most part.

Monza, the infamous leader of a band of mercenaries called the Thousand Swords, fights on the side of Grand Duke Orso of Talins in his war to become King of Styria. She and her brother Benna visit Orso to deliver the news of her latest victory, and as expected, Orso is greatly pleased by the tidings. However, Orso is not so grateful that he wishes to risk his throne being taken over by the two when he realizes Monza’s popularity with the people far outreaches his own. Due to this potential threat, Orso has planned to have both of them murdered. Benna, who was never much of a fighter, is killed rather quickly and thrown from the terrace. After a struggle, Monza is thrown down the mountain where she lands atop her brother’s dead body, and she survives even though she is terribly injured.

Once Monza recovers, all she can think about is vengeance and she will not rest until all seven men who were present during her attempted murder are as dead as her brother. For that purpose, she hires a small group of assorted men and women to help her with her cause – a master poisoner and his assistant, a former torturer, a convict fixated on numbers, a drunken ex-mercenary, and a Northman looking to make a new start in a new place as a better man. Together they plot to take down each of the seven men, one by one.

Whether or not I would recommend beginning with Best Served Cold instead of the First Law trilogy depends on reader preference (and I wouldn’t recommend either to readers who have issues with violence, language, sexual content, and reading about people who aren’t exactly noble). Best Served Cold is a more tightly focused novel about vengeance (of course). The First Law trilogy is traditional epic fantasy with more magic, a wider view of the world, and larger scale events. Overall, I did prefer Best Served Cold to the First Law trilogy, but it also does have some parts that are more fun if you are familiar with characters from the previous novels. Also, starting with Best Served Cold then reading the trilogy means you may know some of how it ends, although I don’t think there are enough details mentioned that any big events would be spoiled. Most of the references to major characters from the series are so vague that I suspect I would have forgotten about them by the time I went back and read the First Law had I begun with Best Served Cold. Of course, Best Served Cold is also shorter despite its length since it is self-contained rather than being composed of three volumes, each of which is longer than the previous one.

Best Served Cold follows a clearly defined structure for the entire novel once the prologue is complete. Each section is prefaced by a few pages about Monza and Benna’s past, with each section revealing more about the two and how you may not know as much about them as initially thought. Due to this method of weaving past and present, the fun dialogue, the not-so-morally-good characters, and the early plot’s focus on using more brains than brawn to reach an end goal, it reminded me a bit of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch at first. Further into the book, there was a lot more focus on fighting and battles, though, and it reminded me less of Lies the more I read. The middle actually got a bit bogged down with too many fight scenes and it slowed the pacing down, but I tend to enjoy reading about battles of wits to battles involving weaponry, so perhaps others won’t feel those parts dragged out as much as I did.

Like the First Law trilogy, most of the characters are not people you would want to be friends with since they are on nobody’s side but their own. In spite of that (or perhaps because of that, depending on your point of view), they are all very interesting and fun to read about, particularly since the banter between them is very entertaining and often made me laugh out loud. They each have their own little quirks, such as the mercenary who lived for drink, and the Northman who ended up as a part of Monza’s set of hired killers when he came to Styria to get away from killing. What I particularly enjoyed about the characters (in addition to their cynical but oftentimes hilarious outlook on life) was the way in which they were presented. Some of them are revealed to in fact be far better than they appear the more you read – while others end up being far worse. (Even so, none of them are exactly angels – they are all part of a group of hired killers, after all.) Yet I never got the impression that any of them were pure evil but rather a product of circumstances, their past and present situations. They were just doing the best they could to survive in a harsh world where the law is every man for himself.

Best Served Cold is a darkly humorous tale of vengeance filled with schemes and skirmishes. The characters are not models of goodness but also did not seem too despicable since they all had reasons for their behavior. They were certainly amusing enough to keep it from feeling too depressing even when events were not turning out in their favor.


Read the Prologue

Other Reviews:

The winners of the Hugo Awards were announced tonight at WorldCon in Montreal. (Reason #113 why Twitter is awesome: This year I got to actually see who won the awards as each one came in – thanks to everyone on Twitter who kept those of us who could not be there informed!)

The winners are as follows:

Best Novel: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress
Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear
Best Short Story: “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang
Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Kaja and Phil Foglio
Best Editor (Short Form): Ellen Datlow
Best Editor (Long Form): David G. Hartwell
Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog, Joss Whedon
Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Wall-E
Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, John Scalzi
Best Semiprozine: Weird Tales
Best Fanzine: Electric Velocipede
Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu
Best Fan Writer: Cheryl Morgan

Also announced before the Hugos were given out:

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: David Anthony Durham

Congratulations to all the winners!


What makes me sad is not just the fact that I am missing WorldCon but also that I read that WorldCon Guest of Honor Neil Gaiman mentioned that there were almost 6 more issues of Sandman (apparently, this is old news but like the blogger who wrote this post, I missed it). For the twentieth anniversary of Sandman, Gaiman was planning to write a prequel until DC Comics told him that they would only give him the same contract he had 20 years ago when he was an unknown author. It boggles the mind – Gaiman has won many awards and sold a lot of books, but DC would only give him starving artist wages to write more Sandman, which is often considered to be his best work. And as John pointed out when I told him this, who wants to be making the same amount of money they were two decades ago?

As already stated, this makes me sad. Even though I do not generally enjoy graphic novels as much as novels, I wholeheartedly agree these were Gaiman’s best writing based on what I have read by him so far. Although I loved The Graveyard Book and Anansi Boys and enjoyed Neverwhere, none of them were as wonderful as Sandman, which managed to include various world mythologies and Shakespeare and was just plain full of awesomeness. (Note: American Gods was left out because I haven’t read it yet, not because I’m one of the people who didn’t enjoy it – I just don’t know if I like it yet or not.) Sandman is dark and has well-developed characters and it completely blew my mind since I thought I could never get to know and love the characters in a graphic novel as much as a full length one. I would really love to read a prequel and wish it was going to be a reality.

I had to laugh a little when I saw a post about a bookcase giveaway at Temple Library Reviews since I had the same initial reaction when I was contacted by CSN (a company that apparently sells things like office furniture, bookcases, desks, and mattresses) about reviewing one of their products: puzzlement. In fact, I nearly deleted the message until the word “bookcase” caught my eye. Then I figured why not write a bookcase review – anyone who loves books enough to follow a book blog like this one is probably afflicted with problems similar to mine – having eight bookshelves and still not enough space for all these books that pile up. Plus the bookshelves I do have tend to bend under the weight of thick epic fantasy hardcovers. This is actually what got me thinking that a review of this sort of product would be useful; I’ve had so many crappy bookshelves that I know I would have appreciated a bit of up-front testing.

While looking through their site, I was positively drooling over some of the shelves – someday I want to have the money and space to have a library wall or a gorgeous corner bookcase. I’ve always wanted to have a library with enough shelf space to actually alphabetize my books since now I have to double stack them all, which means keeping similarly sized books together. So I can’t alphabetize them by author very well (especially since they are also spread throughout the apartment) and it drives the anal side of me crazy. (Plus I just like for sets of books to look like they go together because well… have I mentioned I’m anal about some things?) I was about to ask if I was the only one who had that problem, but fortunately, I remembered this discussion from Orannia’s blog. It was such a relief to discover I wasn’t the only one.


So, what’s everyone reading or hoping to read this month? After reading a few long books, I plan to read some shorter ones and hopefully read a few more this month than I have been lately. I just finished Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie and will be reviewing that soon, and I just started on Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire last night. After that, I am hoping to read:

  • Dreamdark: Silksinger by Laini Taylor (or possibly Fire by Kristin Cashore or Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – to celebrate Young Adult Appreciation Month over at The Book Smugglers)
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber
  • The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

There are many more I’d like to squeeze in this month but 5 books is probably about my limit unless I win the lottery in the next couple of weeks.

This year’s World Fantasy Award nominees were announced today. Listed below are the nominees for novel, novella and short story, but a full list can be found at the World Fantasy Convention site.

Best Novel

  • The House of the Stag, Kage Baker (Tor)
  • The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury)
  • Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
  • Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin; Knopf)

Best Novella

  • “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”, Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
  • “If Angels Fight”, Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
  • “The Overseer”, Albert Cowdrey (F&SF 3/08)
  • Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury; HarperCollins)
  • “Good Boy”, Nisi Shawl (Filter House)

Best Short Story

  • “Caverns of Mystery”, Kage Baker (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy)
  • “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 7/08)
  • “Pride and Prometheus”, John Kessel (F&SF 1/08)
  • “Our Man in the Sudan”, Sarah Pinborough (The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror Stories)
  • “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 5/08)

Sadly, the only one of these I have read is Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which I loved. I’ve wanted to read something by Kage Baker for a while so I would like to read The House of the Stag at some point, and I am also curious about Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. It made me happy to see Catherynne M. Valente was a nominee since I really loved her novel The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden (her reaction on Twitter was actually the first I saw about the nominee announcement). I loved The Last Unicorn so seeing Peter S. Beagle on the list makes me happy, too. If you’ve read any of the nominated works, what did you think of them? Do you have any favorites you’re rooting for?

Congratulations to all the nominees!