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on 3 May 2011
I'd not read Abercrombie's First Law trilogy before buying this book, but rather bought it because it was £1.99 in hardback in a book sale and I'd heard he was meant to be a pretty good author. After making sure that the book was a stand-alone novel (because I didn't want to get into another trilogy) I handed over my pennies and settled down to give it a go.

have to say, loved it. Loved his characters (more than two dimensional yet not quite more than caricatures) and thought the plot was great, with plenty of twists and turns and never knowing who will make it out alive. I especially liked the hinting at greater themes and larger plots working in the background. I enjoyed the book so much in fact that I finished it in three sittings and immediately ordered all three books in his debut trilogy.

If you're looking for a damn good fantasy read then buy with confidence.
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on 22 April 2014
After having finished the excellent First Law series, I looked forward to reading this, a new storyline centred around new or minor characters introduced in the First Law books. It opens rather well, taking a Northman across the sea to another new map and introduces the main characters in Abercrombie's normal style. I thought that from there, it would spin off into another un-put-down-able yarn which I would finish off within a week.

A year later, and I was sadly mistaken. This isn't a bad story, by any means. It's got several nice twists, some memorable characters that are transformed along the way ... it's just the problem I have with this revenge book is that there isn't enough balance to make it an enjoyable read. If you are at all familiar with Abercrombie's work, you will go into this expecting to be (darkly) amused, both by the wit he invests in his characters, and the ironies that play out in the stories they create.

It's disappointing then, to find that as relationships between characters become mangled (as with the characters themselves), the opportunity for humour and amusement is dampened like so much wasted Gurkish Powder. As much as you want to invest in the characters, their intrinsic unworthiness is extrapolated out before halfway, ensuring that you have a pretty insurmountable barrier of dislike to overcome before you even begin to try to enjoy the actual story. Which is pretty bleak.

Best served cold is definitely served cold, as opposed to spicy; the main character is a maudlin model of incest (wrung from the same loins as Jaime Lannister somewhat), largely dead of wit and hollow inside. Her forced relationships are as contrived as her circumstances, which drag you on through a monochrome landscape of war and redshirts, mercenaries and dukes that culminates somewhat predictably in the main characters surviving some pretty heinous treatment, their perspectives and outlook of life shattered into new reflections along the way.

So it goes without saying that this book is a bit of a trial. I'd pick it up one night, and then put it down for a month. It's definitely not (by the author's own admission, no less) one of the best Abercrombie books out there.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 July 2014
Best served cold is the second time I have wanted to give a five star review to a novel by Joe Abercrombie but after finishing the book I just can't quite allow myself to do just that.

Before discussing my reason for this book loosing a star though, let's start with what was potentially 5 star material.

I was quite awe struck by the First Law trilogy and my introduction to Joe Abercrombie. What I was reading was a series of gritty, harsh and almost terrifying fantasy that has become very popular since the Game of Thrones TV show brought the world's attention to George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. However, where the other books I have read in the same vein fall short of Martin's brilliant books, Abercrombie's have been (in my opinion) far more enjoyable and this is true here as well.

One of my criticisms of this harsh and gritty sub-genre is that it is a constant downer and an effort to read. The crushing defeats and constant cruelties can make reading the books hard work. However, Joe Abercrombie has brilliantly compensated for this by including lots of his wonderful yet admittedly dark humour to his books. This humour is in abundance in Best Served Cold and the book is better for it.

In what is effectively a very brutal revenge story that extends beyond simple killing into all out war on a large scale I was surprised to find myself grinning and laughing all the way through. The jokes find their way into every dark scene at just the right time to both leave the horror of the situation whilst also allowing you to stomach what is happening. Because of this I never feel the need to put down the book and take a breath but instead keep reading as I am eager to find out what happens next.

Keeping people reading is doubly impressive in a book of this size. Often with so many pages to a story you find yourself wishing that they'd just get on with it, but in this story I always found myself thinking, "Yay! There's still this many pages to go."

All of the characters in this book were brilliantly illustrated and even the side characters are fascinating examples of the variance of personalities amongst the human race. There are no characters that I regretted reading a chapter in their POV and that is a big rarity for me as I am usually eager to return to the main characters and even more often to one character in particular, always seeing the intervening chapters as annoying interruptions in the narrative. This book flows nicely from start to finish and each character (flaws and all) were wonderful to read about...

However, it is here where finally I come to the reason why I can't bring myself to give this book five stars. The ending.

Whilst I have grown to love each of the characters individually and I was suitably surprised by twist endings in their stories, I still haven't ended the book with a sense that each character got what they ultimately deserved at the end of the story. Sadly, this is a common problem I have with this kind of book. The harsh truth of life is that sometimes the good get the shaft while the bad rise above it all and get exactly what they want. The trouble is that this is a very unsatisfying truth and it is hard to stomach in a book that often we read to escape such harsh truths in real life.

Just as the brutality is tempered with humour in order to make it easier to stomach, the suitably realistic endings need to be tempered with at least a little satisfaction in order to reward the reader for sticking with the story for so long. I don't need to have all the bad guys die and have the hero live happily ever after but I do like to see at least one of my favourite characters end the book a little better off then they started it or at least with some kind of paradigm shift that could hint at a new understanding that could lead to the possibility of a brighter future.

Instead I find that all the things I am hoping for never happen at the end. People that I'd like to see suffer at least a little or maybe learn a lesson from what has happened end up profiting. Characters who were severely wronged over the course of the book end up without even a modicum of justice. Basically there is nothing to which I can really get behind and think: Yeah, I'm glad that happened.

Overall though this is a very enjoyable book and it is only a vague sense of dissatisfaction that has come over me at the end of the novel that has lost a star from this review. The writing is excellent, the characters well rounded and loveable, the story is suitably complicated with plenty of twists and basically it is an excellent novel.

There are many out there who will not feel as dissatisfied with the ending as I do so I can happily say without reservation that I seriously recommend this book and this author.
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Maybe it's because my life is an endless cycle of going to work and looking after small children, so I need some escapism. Maybe it's because I read this whilst struggling through Robert Jordan's Eye of the World. Or maybe it's because I found the story so gripping that I spent half term largely ignoring aforesaid small children, so I could immerse myself in the vaguely skewed version of earth as we know it; but I loved Best Served Cold.

Wy only 4 stars then? Well, partly because I never give top marks and party because...

What went well:

Non-stop action, with no interminable descriptions of travelling (Yes, Jordan, I mean you).

A group of misfit characters with few or no redeeming qualities.

HIghly enjoyable battles. I generally hate battle scenes almost much as descriptive passages, but Abercrombie manages them well - especially in the Heroes, but that's another story.

Strong female characters - keeping firmly away from the virgin/mother/whore thing; although by dint of the society Abercrombie creates, whores do tend to be the career move of the unfortunate.

Interesting take on the relationship between Shivers and Monza.

Development of Cosca. I liked him more here than in The Trilogy.

The vaguely episodic nature of the revenge.

Even better if:

There was more of Vitari, who actually emerged as the most interesting character, I found. Although perhaps that was because I'd met her before.

The Northmen could be a little more clearly delineated; Shivers came across as a little Nine-fingers-lite at times. And what's with the big softies falling in love at the drop of a pair of knickers? Can't they separate sex and emotions, or something?

In my first review (which Amazon ate), I commented that too many of the women seem 'feisty', rather than developed, but the more I've thought about it, the more I've decided I was wrong. Others have commented that Murcatto is a bit 2D, but then, if you've spent your entire life fighting battles and looting, not to mention trying to retain your status amongst a bunch of untrustworthy men, I'm not really sure how much personality you're going to have. I actually found her growing uncertainty - especially around her brother - quite interesting.

And finally...

To those who said there was too much swearing: is it bad that I barely noticed it?

The complaints about it being derivative of other revenge films etc. Well, yes. But then there's a reason revenge drama has been popular throughout the ages. Equally, nothing good ever happens to anyone in a revenge drama. Shades of Hamlet, I guess in the idea of duty vs morality (but no lengthy soliloquies here) and I suppose, if you wanted to, you could even find echoes of 'Tis Pity she's a Whore with the ultra-violence and incest,not to mention Kill Bill and a thousand other permutations. Nothing innocent about our Monz though, and I like her all the more for it.

A fair few people complaining about lack of likeable characters puzzles me. That, surely is just down to personal taste. You don't need likeable characters to make a good story, or at least a story you enjoy: Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, The Secret History, Brave New World; not a single likeable character amongst them, but great books. The Octonauts? Great characters, I love them all, but they don't linger in my head all week.
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on 30 December 2013
This is the first Joe Abercrombie novel I've read, and I wanted to like it, being a fan of gritty realistic fantasy like the Song of Ice and Fire series. However it didn't really work for me.

I certainly don't object to violence and dark themes in fiction, but here the relentless violence felt rather like a video game or a dumb action movie, with little plot otherwise, and no character development or emotional depth. After the first few chapters the violence lost its impact and was just boring and repetitive, and I found it difficult to care what happened next. The revenge motivation seemed cliched and predictable, and despite the choice of a female lead character, there seemed to be a strong and inexplicable male-default bias when it came to the other supporting and minor characters

The book is certainly competently written. I just didn't see the point of it. Not for me, I'm afraid.
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on 11 May 2014
Read the first law trilogy, enjoyed it, bought this hoping for more of the same. It's not there I'm afraid. I didn't really connect with any of the characters, Shivers felt like a watered down bloody nine, other characters felt pointless (Day, Friendly) and Monza was too one dimensional to really feel anything for. I felt a little cheated by the 'twist' at the end too, I was hoping for a battle royale clash with Shenkt, and got nothing. Meh
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Anyone who uses a quote from Wrath of Khan as a book title must be really cool, and it appears that Joe Abercrombie in fact is - and he even gives us the real author of the quote, proving he knows stuff, too!

This is a sequel, of sorts, to the First Law trilogy, which was one of the best pieces of low fantasy of the last decade. David Eddings, of all people, came up with a line in his story - although I cant remember which version of the story - to the effect that "rather than good and evil, I prefer us and them. It clears away distractions and lets you focus on whats important". Joe Abercrombie finally delivered on that sentiment with First Law, and proves it all over again with Best Served Cold.

The book opens with Monza Murcatto, mercenary captain, stabbed, strangled, and thrown off a mountain by her employer. She survives only because she lands on the corpse of her beloved younger brother, who met with the same fate and died before her eyes. She swears vengeance on the 7 men who tried to kill her, and puts in motion plans to kill them all, one by one.

Despite this, to an extent to book starts traditionally, with Murcatto gathering a "magnificent seven" of offsiders to help her in her quest: Caul Shivers, a northman looking for redemption in all the wrong places; Friendly, a psychopathic mass murdered just looking for order; Nicomo Cosca, a drunken husk of the man he used to be; and others, including a Castor Morveer, venomous poisoner and his ambitious assistant Day; and Vitari, who remains mysterious if you have not read the First Law.

The first few murders go to plan...and then it all goes downhill fast.

There is plenty of violence, cruelty, swearing, and sex, but I think it all has a purpose. There is a superbly written sex scene - you cant in good conscience call it a "love scene", because it isn't - which contains a great, if perfectly logical, twist.

Nobody is quite who they seem, nobody trusts anyone else, and certainly there are no knights in shining armour here.

Having read the book, I decided that the book was not really about Monza's revenge, or even Caul Shivers' attempt to be a better man, but about Nicomo Cosca's redemption. Perhaps that's my sunny personality, but in the end I think he is real protangonist of the book, and Monza's machinations are just the background to it all.

Of course, if you have read the First Law, you see how Monza's actions will affect the world as a whole, which is really the last thing on anyone's mind at the time.

Abercrombie has done a superb job of writing here, with a dirty gritty tale that is great fun to read, providing you can handle violence, gore and sex. But here's the thing - none of it is gratutious. It all has a point and advances the story. Maybe its not a nice, clean story - and probably Abercrombie would protest that of course the sex and violence is gratutious, course that's how he rolls - but if you only like neat nice bloodless fairy tales, then this book is not, perhaps, for you.

If you like a full-throated adventure that grabs you by the throat and never lets up, and don't mind getting dirty, then this is just the book you have been looking for.
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on 4 June 2013
Beautiful, ruthless and successful - Monza Murcatto is one of Duke Orso's greatest and most favoured generals. At least until he has her beaten savagely, run through, and disposed of by throwing her off his highest balcony. By a great miracle she survives her terrible injuries and sets off on a mission to kill the Duke and all those who participated in her "murder".

In "Best Served Cold" Abercrombie takes a "sword and sandal", feudal setting and uses it to present a very straightforward revenge thriller with very strong overtones of that classic Hollywood (et al) genre the "gang heist caper", typified by... Ocean's Eleven, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly's Heroes, The Italian Job, etc etc etc.

The writing is clean and competent, with a witty, relaxed style and occasionally lapsing into a mild vernacular "for effect". The plot is linear and simple, presenting no real twists and turns... well, there are a few twists, but no big surprises, making this a relatively enjoyable and undemanding read. The story is an "exciting" one, in as much as it trips along at a fair pace, throwing plenty of action, gore (torture and sundry sword-play) and a few fairly racy sex scenes.

On the other hand, that simplicity, the lack of complexity and surprise do render the plot a fairly bland. That would be more than acceptable were the characters to take up the slack. A good "gang" adventure is in large part defined by the leading characters and their interactions. Unfortunately Abercrombie's protagonists are a bit of a letdown. The mixed bag of criminals, murderers, torturers and barbarians in Murcatto's gang are oozing potential and, for sure, Abercrombie makes an effort to build some interesting and quirky characters (almost succeeding in a couple of case) out of this wholecloth. Unfortunately they still come across as a little flat, unfinished... almost two-dimensional*. Even Murcatto herself is disappointing. One could almost replace every reference to "her" with "him" and the story would barely suffer...

Again, all of this could be overcome if any of the characters were actually likeable but they're not. They all (including the leading lady) start the journey as a bunch of violent, cynical, greedy, self-serving thugs, unlikeable** and untouched by conscience and, as it turns out, irredeemable to a man/woman. Nevertheless, the story is big on the central moral; i.e. that revenge brings no rewards. And that moral bangs leadenly throughout this rather long novel like a loose door in the wind. Yeah yeah, I got the message in the first couple of chapters - no one wins! After that point, "Best Served Cold" is little more than revenge porn and, towards the final quarter, I was flagging, wishing that they'd all just kill each other and let me get on to a better book.

In the end, the story is perfectly readable, indeed is enjoyable and witty (if you have the persistence and stomach for it). It makes a fine enough holiday read next to the missus' Jackie Collins, but it lacks the vim needed to lift it above the common herd and earn it a fourth star.

* Contrast this with Dahlquists' Glass Books trilogy. Despite its many shortcomings, it presents three of the most vibrant, interesting and sympathetic protagonists I have encountered.

** For some reason Abercrombie has a small obsession with his characters' propensity to snort and spit rather more frequently than is quite reasonable.
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on 5 August 2009
As there are a lot of other reviews going over story and plotline I wont bother.
This is a solid book, a good piece of writing but - its nothing special. Compared to the author's first trilogy this book lacks a certain something or somethings - perhaps its the fact the lead character isn't particularly interesting, shes a pretty buttoned down, unemotional, non quirky kind of gal with a dose of steel a mile wide, or that all the characters are far less developed than any of those in the trilogy, or... well whatever it is, this book doesn't thrill like the First Law set.
Although this book is a standalone - it does help somewhat if you have read the trilogy first, some vague hand waving and nods towards the greater political sphere will fit with a much more satisfying depth if you actually understand some of the bit part players threats, fear and doubt. Without it, I should say that some scenes will come across as a bit light - Who, What, How now ?
In short, this is a fine book, but it doesn't emotionally engage like his other titles, its much more 2D, and reads like its going through the motions in places. Just... another... 1,000 words... and then I'm done with this chapter. Not that its ever boring. Its just not going to set your world alight.
I seem to recall the author fretting that this book wasn't as good as the First Law trilogy, and rationalising that not everything can be great, but maybe his mind was playing tricks on him and it would be great. I would say his first instinct was right in this case - good, but nowhere near best.
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on 8 November 2016
Typical Abercrombie. An engaging read. Easier in some ways to some earlier works as he has kept the plots down in number. Just one main one really. Essentially a revenge story, but good fun for all that. Lots of violence, sometimes funny, not exactly sentimental and you won't shed a tear at any point despite the ever-mounting death toll. All the main characters have major personality defects, which is great. Almost an opposite to a romcom, which has to be good.
Good holiday read. A page-turner. I liked it.
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