Review: Best Served Cold

Posted: August 21, 2009 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Joe Abercrombie, Dark Fantasy

We will leave you for the weekend with our review of this stand-alone novel by Joe Abercrombie set in First Law Trilogy universe.

There are few books we have looked forward to more, after finishing THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS (Amazon), than Abercrombie’s next. So when we first heard word of BEST SERVED COLD (Amazon) we could barely contain our excitement. In other words, Steve ran around squealing like a 15-year-old girl and clapping excitedly.

Right from the get-go you know what this book about, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. It’s a fast-paced, action and twisted humor-filled tale of a woman’s pursuit of revenge. They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Monza Murcatto makes that sound like a silly understatement.

In BEST SERVED COLD Abercrombie introduces a smattering of new characters who meet up with some of the most interesting supporting cast from his First Law Trilogy to great effect (Nick literally cheered out-loud when the Northman took the ‘stage’). If Joe were a nuclear physicist, and the characters components in his lab, BEST SERVED COLD would be one hell of a bomb. Each of the characters have believable strengths, faults, and motivations. Despite the fact that they are all pretty awful people as far as morality goes, they are sympathetic, and we think everyone can find a bit of themselves if these characters.

The plot really is simply about revenge (Really, did you expect anything else with a title like BEST SERVED COLD?), and there are very few surprises. But Joe’s execution of the telling of this tale anything but simple. Much like Patrick Rothfuss did with the coming-of-age magician tale THE NAME OF THE WIND (Amazon), Joe Abercrombie is the puppet master behind the new king of the revenge story. Has there been a better attempt/success? It is our not-so-humble opinion that there hasn’t. Ever.

From the opening scene of BEST SERVED COLD, we are reminded of what makes Abercrombie so good: dialogue, events, characters. We weep with happiness.

Something that intrigued us early on is that Abercrombie acknowledges, through his characters, the toll their actions take. They understand they are awful people, and consider the cost of their actions frequently. This is something we haven’t seen a whole lot of in recent fantasy books. It is refreshing to see the gray characters (because really black and white characters bore us to death) reflect on their actions a bit. In BEST SERVED COLD, we found our favorite shade of gray. Almost black.

There is a very real magical quality in the way Abercrombie writes that entrances us. There is an artistry behind the words, and it sucks us in. From the opening scene of BEST SERVED COLD, we are reminded of what makes Abercrombie so good. The banter between the the characters–and the exciting events that the characters are wrapped up in–makes us nearly weep with happiness. Weep. Us. We know, right?

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: The main characters are poisoners, murderers, criminals, soldiers, and torturers. Do you really think they would have a problem swearing? They swear like its their job.
  • Violence: Luckily, swearing isn't their job. Killing people is. They do it well. Lots of it.
  • Sex: There are a couple sex scenes, some innuendo, reference to sexual acts, but Abercrombie, again though, seems to treat it all mostly as a joke.

Joe is a great guy, and will answer your emails. Go check out his site:

Nick’s Note: The book rested on my desk–taunting me while I was busy with others–for a few days, which is no mean feat seeing as Abercrombie is in the trio of my favorite authors — the others being Bakker (Amazon) and Lynch (Amazon) — before I finally picked it up.

I didn’t move from that spot until I had turned the last page. As you can tell from the review, Abercrombie has overthrown Bakker as my top pick.

If you think I’m overzealously gushing about this novel, buy it, read it, and prepare yourself for the realization that I am totally right, and this book deserves it.

If you haven’t read the THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY, shame on you! Go buy and read them while you’re out and about.


  • Seth says:

    I give it a 3.25 out of 5.

    • If you don't mind my asking, what was it that caused you to give BSC a 3.25 out of 5? What did you think of The First Law trilogy?

      • Seth says:

        I didn't read the trilogy. I just started to dabble in the fantasy genre the last few months. I found it hard to get into because it didn't flow like the other books that I have read in the past. If I had more experience reading the genre it would have been higher. Talking to Nick he told me characters in the trilogy are also in Best Served Cold and I’m sure that some background would be helpful.

        • Ah. I get that. I would definitely recommend reading the trilogy first. It will help you adjust to the writing style in an easier manner, and it will make a lot of the undercurrents of Best Served Cold make sense. Try 'em out when you get a chance.

  • ritika says:

    I have just completed First Law trilogy. I am not sure if I can stand to see mu favorite characters in a secondary role. Is this book really worth reading? Will it spoil first law trilogy for me?

  • John says:

    I'm curious about why the book was characterized as 'Books We Like' when the review is overwhelmingly positive? What about the book put it there rather than, 'Books We Love'?

    • Dan Smyth says:

      I'll chime in on this one, as no one else has yet and Nick isn't around very often anymore.

      I pretty much spot-on agree with everything that Nick has said in the review, and I also agree completely with the overall rating. For me, there were two issues that took the book from 'Love' to 'Like':

      1) The revenge bent begins to get quite tedious aftera majority of the book has passed. It's been a while since I read this one, but I'm remembering that it was at about the 70%-ish mark that the story stopped being as fun for me as it had at the beginning. This would probably have been easily remedied by having fewer people for Monza to go and slaughter, but where's the fun in the bringing the death-count down, I guess. In short, it got long.

      2) The repetitive use of “withholding information” from we the readers. I remember counting that there were 7 or 8 times in particular where a major turning point of the story hinged on the fact that a given POV character had known about something all along, and despite having scenes intimately involved with these concepts, the crucial information was never divulged until the “right” moment. This is a crutch for me, and annoying in the extreme when I see it. If Joe's books weren't so much dang fun otherwise, I would probably rant more about this issue.

      As an aside, Joe's following novel, “The Heroes” was thankfully missing both of these issues, and I thought it was an amazingly spectacular piece of fiction. We've reviewed it as well. Check it out.

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