With all this recent talk of revenge, I thought it a great segue to one of my top reads of last month: Joe Abercrombie’s latest, Best Served Cold. To those of you unfamiliar with Abercrombie – get familiar! His First Law Trilogy (made up of The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings) is an enormously entertaining read; a series packed with action, humor, adventure, and a quirky rogue’s gallery of heroes, villains, and most everyone in between.

Best Served Cold is his latest and, on the surface, it’s a simple tale of revenge:

From the Publisher: “War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, but it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die….”

Initially, yes, it may seem fairly straightforward but, as the story progresses, the reader is ambushed by twists, turns, and shocking revelations that lead one to question not only the measure for measure motivations of our main players, but the very nature of vengeance as well.

Like Abercrombie’s previous works, one of the true standout elements in this latest outing is the characters – a colorful, comical, alternately lovable and reprehensible bunch on both sides of the issue: a down and out barbarian, a dandyish master poisoner, his precocious assistant, a ruthless murderer with a thing for numbers, a washed-up drunkard. And these are the good guys! Sort of. But not really. They’re a flawed and conflicted, morally ambiguous bunch, but, love ’em or hate ’em, you certainly feel for them. Their actions thrill, impress, frustrate, and disappoint. There are no true heroes here, which isn’t really a surprise if you’re familiar with Abercrombie but, shockingly, one comes to the gradual realization that, just maybe, there are no true villains either. Just as, in the book’s opening pages, our protagonist is lulled into a false sense of security before having the rug pulled out from underneath her, the reader is similarly waylaid by a smart and surprising narrative that eschews traditional cathartic trappings for dark developments and disturbing uncertainties.

Although Best Served Cold is a stand-alone entry, there are certain elements from the First Law series that find their way into this book. Two relatively minor characters from the trilogy, the Northman Shivers and the opportunistic mercenary leader Cosca, are major contributors on this outing – well-drawn, deep, and wonderfully compelling.

While the world these characters inhabit is the same, the focus shifts from the courtly intrigue and clash of empires to a venue reminiscent of the Renaissance Italian city states in which wars are fought, not by civilians, but by paid mercenaries. And, very much like the foreign condottieri who waged war on behalf of the Italian cities, the mercenaries in this world are smart enough to realize that it is far more lucrative to “reach an understanding” rather than bother with real battle. Of course, mercenaries can be very, uh, mercenary, and prone to shifting alliances, employers, and reneging on their end of the deal. Abercrombie does a bang up job of capturing the spirit of this period in history and while giving it his own twist. I wonder whether he was inspired by the by the works of Jacob Burckhardt (The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy) or Geoffrey Trease (The Condottieri: Soldiers of Fortune) which offer fascinating historical accounts of the era’s most colorful players (like Sir John Hawkwood and The White Company, famed female commanders Onorata Rodiana and Bona Lombarda, or that duke who delighted in rolling boulders down a hillside onto unsuspecting peasants.).

While the First Law series did a glorious job of turning the high fantasy trope on its ear, Best Served Cold does the same for revenge story in equally impressive fashion. It’s fast-paced, absorbing, darkly humorous, and unabashedly violent, fraught with crosses, double-crosses, triple-crosses and “back up a second did that really happen?!“ moments. Gripping stuff. A terrific introduction to the work of Joe Abercrombie for first-time readers, and an immensely rewarding read for fans of the author.

Highly recommended.


35 thoughts on “April 3, 2009: Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Hi Joe:

    Please tell Ashleigh that I love her hair beret. It suits her.

    As for pranks, I’ve always enjoyed shortening the hems on my husband’s pants. There is nothing better than watching him got to work in pants that end just below his shins.

  2. Thanks for the review and recommendation, Joe. I’ll pick it up when it’s published in July. Unless you’d like to pass your copy this way.

  3. @das: Too friggin’ early, but we’re all looking 🙂 I keep hoping Joe will surprise us with Joel’s Q&A. Yeah, right.

    Watching Ark of Truth and Continuum for the umpteenth time tonight, extremely jealous of all the people having fun at the convention tonight 🙂 There is nothing else on tv that even remotely gets my attention.

    Hi Joe, just listening to “Journey to Celestis” – simply beautiful. Do you have any footage of Joel and orchestra that you could post? Have a good weekend, and really, you should give the guys/girls at the convention a thrill and stop by, they’d love it 🙂

  4. Darnamnit. The local bookstore closed two hours ago, so now I’ll have to wait till morning to call and make sure they hold or order a copy for me. Won’t be able to pick it up till Tuesday, so I need to bust butt on the BotM club selections this weekend. Once I get hold of Best Served Cold, no way I’m going to resist jumping into it immediately. Thanks for the heads up and teasers, and I hope you are enjoying the nice dinner I suspect you’re having this evening.

  5. @ Deni B. – Yeah…I know. I think we all have a worn-out ‘refresh’ button because of this blog. 🙄 Thing is, it’s a fun place…and even when I’m not particularly interested in the day’s subject matter, someone usually manages to bring something up that grabs my attention. And sometimes, it gets grabbed more than others… 😉

    @ Lisa S. – I must apologize – I made a mistake in something I said the other day. I got things backwards – the violence in the Hood/Tigra fight was on-panel, not off – it’s been quite a while since I’ve looked at it. But now that I have, I remember the discussions we had back when this issue came out. Bendis defended the action being on-panel, saying that it prevented the reader’s imagination from going places he didn’t intend for it to go, such as assuming a sexual assault was taking place. This was a brutal fight, but it wasn’t meant to be sexually brutal, so that’s why the violence was shown, and not alluded to – to let the reader know exactly what was – and what was not – happening.

    Honestly, I never really understood the outrage over it. She’s a hero – and heroes get beaten up by the bad guys on occasion. It comes with the job, and is no different than when a female cop or soldier gets wounded or killed in the line of duty. If anything, Bendis was just showing that heroes – whether they be male or female – are equal, and as such none are exempt from falling victim to a villan.

    However, maybe I found it easier to accept because I read so much Wolverine, and that li’l fart is always getting his arse whooped by the villain du jour…and lots of times by other heroes, too! Even Aunt May got the better of him once… 🙄 So, as I read that issue, I didn’t see what happened to Tigra as anything different than what happens to Wolverine in nearly every issue he’s in.

    Now, as far as over-sexualizing the fight…well, I have several well-worn Wolverine issues where the poor fella’s beaten so badly, he ends up nekkid, save for a strategically placed shadow or beer bottle. So, maybe they did sexualize Tigra’s beating, but it’s no more than what’s been done to Wolverine a thousand times over…

    …only with lots less hair. 😉

    Speaking of Wolverine…

    I’m sure many have heard by now that a work copy of the new Wolverine movie was leaked on-line, and it’s getting a lot of criticism. I have not – and will not – watch it, but just in case anyone is tempted: this is said to be a 3-4 month old copy that was put together before the recent filming of additional scenes in Vancouver. Supposedly, a LOT of work has been done on the film since then to tweak it, so what’s circulating on-line may be nothing like the final cut. I just hope people wait for the finished product before they pass judgment. Personally, it doesn’t much matter to me since I prefer the hairy li’l feller in the comic books over the movie version, but I do hate to see an entire production hurt because some people are just too impatient to wait for the official release.

    @ whovian – Just wanted to say that I am not upset with what you did (I’m pretty sure you know that by now 😉 ). The way I look at it is this…1. You told Chris about a fan who just happened to be me, and he encouraged me to come to a con. He would have encouraged any of his fans to do the same, so I see it as an open invitation to all who – like me – admire his work. 2. Due to some medical issues, I’m really not sure I can attend the con because I may need surgery around that time. Still…if I can’t go and tell Chris in person how much I admire his work, at least now he already knows, thanks to you. So, in a way, you’ve taken a bit of pressure off of me in that – if I do miss Shore Leave – I won’t be moping around thinking, ‘man, I never got to tell Chris how much I dig his stuff.’ This way, he’s aware that he has groupies admirers who appreciate his art and his talents, even if we never get a chance to tell him in person. So, thanks much for that.

    Have a good evening (or morning! or afternoon!) everyone! Joe, give the pups kisses for me! Oh, and I’m really missing the weird food installments! I think you still owe us booze, haggis, and the 100-year old egg…not necessarily in that order. 😀


  6. Hey Joe,

    I sent you an e-mail the other day. I hope your spamfilter didn’t snag it.

    @DeniB: Ok… Michael Shanks kiss. That should be interesting. 😈 Ha ha. It would be funny if I could come back here and tell you I passed it along. Uh, don’t hold your breath. 😀

    Now I’m gonna go get some grub.


  7. Early post today =)

    Question for Peter Deluise:

    In 200, you let out an impressive stream of expletives that lasted for a very long time! Did you have to borrow from other languages to keep that going, or did you repeat a couple?

  8. Joe!!!!!

    How could you not tell us about Rick coming back to play again????!!!!! Awesome news!!! He’s going to be in the first bunch of Universe episodes and he says the movie is going to film this summer!!!! You’ve been holding out on us. You should have to make it up to us somehow….how about a little scoop on when we can hear an announcement from MGM about the cast, etc.?

  9. Just saw the new teaser for SGU during Continuum. Once again…I was trying to figure out what the hell it was for…until I saw Robert C. running down a hallway. Then I hit rewind and watched a few more times. Fabulous. I really can’t wait for this premiere.

  10. Oh, dammit…here…bored..and supremely jealous of everyone at the convention up there…

    Now I’ll be depressed all weekend.

  11. Several Con-goers have posted photo’s from the “Stargate Museum.”
    Is that a permanent exhibit or is it being transfered to the Smithsonian (or Canadian equivalent) once the con is over?

  12. Okay, that was *not* a new SGU trailer. At least, not the one that I saw.
    Not that rewatching Continuum was a waste of my time at all, it’s not like I haven’t seen it like a million times (or that I’m not gonna watch it another million times!) 😉

    I’m so jealous of the people at the various cons this weekend! I wish I were living on the West Coast (or could afford to fly out there)!!!

    I’ll hafta pick up Best Served Cold next time I’m in a bookstore. Sadly, I haven’t visited a bookstore in a while…

  13. Hi Joe 🙂

    A little poem for you…..

    “Nad’s Don’t Worry Joe Poem

    Joe, you might feel
    that certain fans bring you down
    Joe, you might believe
    that you can only frown

    But Joe, you’ve got an awesome stalker
    she knows you inside and yes, out
    whenever you mention some vague name
    she knows which chef you talk about

    Joe, you might think that fans don’t care
    and that some simply care too much, oh
    Joe, you might see cranky pants everywhere
    and fail to see we love you so

    But Joe, the JoeHoHos all support you
    and yes, the WooHoos all do too
    And Joe, we’ll help you find that stalker
    …just give us the birthday of Martin Wood”

    No, your ‘stalker’ isn’t me 😉

  14. Question for peter deluise

    Did you ever expect the character of Lorne to take off like it did when you first came up with the character and named him after your brother or father in law? Thanks for casting Kavan Smith in the role, he’s one of my favorites now.

  15. @Whovian: I think we should just make you our Stargate convention emissary, although between Das and her Todd fixation and me with the Daniel Jackson thing, maybe you’re busy enough… Frakkiing depressing being in Florida tonight (oops, it’s this morning, been up since 2 a.m. and it’s now 4:10)! You can just tell my Daniel that I send him a big one, if you would be so kind. (Remember, I’m 20-something and gorgeous.) Are you going to the Chicago convention?

    @Das: It is a fun place, and from what I can tell, some really nice people here. Good thing Joe has a sense of humor and apparently, the patience of the Pope 😉 Must get pancakes. Wonder if hubby will wake up and go and find me some…

  16. GAH! I just pre-ordered Best Served Cold. its due out over here 18/06/09 from (free shipping in the UK)

    Now I have to get ready to go collect a second-hand larder unit that I can use in my newly spring-cleaned shed. Looks like the bonfire is on for tonight too with all the crap that was in there. All I’m going to say is thank god for a best buddy with OCD and a compulsion to commit housework and cleaning wherever she goes.


  17. This is for Peter thanks for taking time out to answer questions….My MOM is 91 and she is a huge fan of your Dad. I beleive my Mom has all the movie’s on DVD that Dom has ever been in.Do you have your own web site where we Peter fans can get updates on what your directing,producing stuff like that??..hopefully you will be back to direct a few more episodes of SGU….EH?

  18. sweet trailer. cant wait to see the shield cam, hope it works for the story.

  19. Hi Joe,

    Looks to be an interesting book. Saw the trailer last night. I didn’t like Chloe’s repeated line and What was going on when Chloe was screaming behind the door? Was Scott about to kill her?

    A cut of air already! WOW! so here come the questions

    1. Does the cut include visual effects such as the Destiny?

    2. Is Will Waring directing Water?

    Thanks so much,
    Major D. Davis

  20. Mr. Mallozzi. this is an official notice that I hate you. Just found out from the bookstore that Best Served Cold will not be available until July. Bad enough no new Stargate until September, now you torture us with a wonderful review of a book we can’t get until July? Not even Baron Destructo is that callously sadistic.
    On the plus side I can get about reading the rest of the April BotM club selections without drooling over Abercrombie first. But I’m still….annoyed. How about a nice long mailbag as a way to make up for your wanton cruelty?

  21. Bonjour,

    1)Peut-on se procurer un objet officielle de la série SG-1 ?

    2)Aimez vous un sport ? lesquelles ?

    3) Pourquoi il n’y a pas de français sur l’expédition Atlantis ?

    Merci beaucoup ! Bonne journée !

  22. Hi, Joe. One of the props being shown at the Vancouver Stargate convention museum is a portrait of McKay signed by what looks like “bmex”. Do you know who did the portraits of McKay from “Harmony” and “The Game”? Thanks!

  23. I noticed some people dismissed brad wrights Stargate Worlds comment, even someone from the company posted on the games forum that the studio is kinda independant and that the game will still go ahead.
    Some people stated that Brad wright knows only as much as the rest of us in the regards to the game and stuff.

    Dunno, youd expect Brad to have some idea what he’s talking about, he did create SG1 in all… *shrugs*

  24. Hey Joe, Did the gate get a redesign for Universe like it did for Atlantis?

  25. Hey Joe, just thought of a question:

    Was the General Hammond (the ship) destroyed in Enemy at the Gates or did it survive to fight another day?

  26. O.K. Joe, rub it in. “Best Served Cold” sounds great and I am really looking forward to reading it when us poor peons are able to get our own copies upon its publication in July.

    I’m still having trouble getting into Powers, but I will keep plugging away at it so I can at least participate a little in the discussion next week. I’m just not a big crime fiction fan.

  27. they should make the game free and get profit from ads or sell stuff stupid ppl buy. on-screen keyboard sucks.

  28. Do I still have time for PDL?

    My questions:

    1. Your audio commentaries are legendary. Did you ever get told by the studio or Brad to tone them down at all?

    2. What’s the biggest thing you learnt about yourself and writing/directing while doing Stargate?

    3. Who’s your favourite superhero?

    4. Why did you leave?

    5. It would be remiss if I didn’t have a toilet question. What are the toilets like on Destiny?

    6. Everyone’s asking about your Dad. I actually was wondering what Michael was up to. He was hilarious on Gilmore Girls.

    Cheers, Chev

  29. I know you say that the whole talk of revenge was a good segue into this book, but I’m thinking you are trying to get a message out. That like the long held concept of revenge being a dish best served cold, you want Ashleigh to hold off until next April Fools day as you already suggested to her. The problem is that for the dish to be “cold” the concept is that the victim will not be suspecting an impending attack. On April Fool’s day you would be expecting the attack. Same thing for the next few weeks. If she does this right, you will not even be thinking about her impending retaliation. hee hee. Not to freak you out or anything, but you’re probably going to need to install some motion detector video cams in your office. :o)

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