“Best Served Cold” by Joe Abercrombie

Emily of Embuhleeliest and I are working our way through Abercrombie’s First Law books; we completed buddy-reading this one in December. I liked the books in the First Law trilogy, but this one, a standalone novel set in the same world with some familiar characters, wasn’t as appealing.


Grimdark Fantasy


First Law



Quick summary

As the title suggests, Best Served Cold is a story of revenge. The famous and talented female mercenary Monza Murcatto and her brother Benna were betrayed and murdered by their employer and close, somewhat trusted, associates. However, death didn’t take to Monza despite her being thrown down a cliff (or mountain, someplace high). Angry and bent on revenge, Monza gathers up a group of misfits — the Northman Shivers, self-important poisoner Morveer and his assistant, a former member of the Inquisition named Vitari, the once-famous mercenary and now drunkard Cosca, a killer with a love of numbers called Friendly — to hunt and kill the eight men (I think it’s eight… or was it seven?) responsible for her murder, which includes Duke Orso, father of the new queen of the Union.

How did a Northman get caught up in this? Well, someone lied and told Shivers that Styria was a great place to visit, and wanting to get away from fighting and try something new, Shivers went. But it was a rude awakening for Shivers, who seems unable to stay away from violence despite his best efforts. When he joins Monza’s group of misfits, things become worse for him. (Goodreads)

My thoughts

Revenge. I swear, is there a more pointless, destructive, unsatisfying motive in all the world?”

(I feel like taking a moment of silence for the man Shivers becomes by the end of this book.)

This one started out great. The betrayal and murder of Monza and her being healed by a weird doctoring dude were all interesting. And then there was Shivers’ POV, which I enjoyed reading although at times it reminded me too much of Logen’s first time visiting Adua. I was so invested in the first part of this story that it was a let down when I slowly started to lose interest, no matter how hard I tried not to.

And I really tried, because I thought this would become the first book with a revenge plot that I’d like. Typically, I don’t like plots or characters driven by revenge or anger. I just think those stories are hard to sustain for long without it becoming repetitive — constantly reflecting on who next to kill or hurt and then committing that violence. This story does that but because of how Abercrombie writes characters, I thought I’d get so caught up in the characters themselves that I wouldn’t pay much attention to the fact that this is all about revenge. But that didn’t happen.

The thing is I think this book is too long at 630 pages. It should have been shorter and snappier with a much faster pace. I also think there were too many violent scenes (or rather, too many long violent scenes), which is weird coming from me who doesn’t mind reading about that shit or watching it in movies. But after the fourth or fifth murder (whichever one it was that involved the water wheel and the dude drowning), I felt so weary when thinking about the others to come that I seriously contemplated giving up on the book. If not for my buddy-read, I would have. Instead, I skimmed my way to the end.

It’s just that in addition to murdering the eight or so dudes Monza’s revenge is directed at, there are also battles to be fought. So after a while, those scenes no longer elicit an emotional response from me. I was just indifferent, numb, to it all and instead looked forward to closing the book with finality. But at least the characters were interesting.

The story has a heist feel to it since Monza and her crew are basically assassinating the eight dudes. The try to do so in the most clandestine way possible, which never goes as planned. After a while, I realized that these hiccups in the plans were intended to be humorous. Actually, there are a few parts in the story that are intended to be humorous, but I didn’t pick up on that until my interest in the story started to fade, unfortunately. The only thing that brought me some humor was the poisoner Morveer, who thinks he’s the greatest thing in Styria.

“Curse my vanity! The one flaw in my character.”

Despite him being an annoying asshole who I dislike, Morveer is one of my favorite characters. I just like how committed he is to being a jerk and that he annoys everyone. Cosca was another favorite. He’s a carryover from the three books that make up the First Law trilogy. His interactions with Morveer were entertaining, especially toward the end, and I also like his conversations with Friendly. Shivers… poor Shivers.

I don’t like Monza. I don’t think Abercrombie intends for his characters to be liked since they are all morally grey or totally lack morals, but I really don’t like Monza. Why? Because I like Shivers, and this story is partly about a dude trying to become a better man but becomes a worse one instead. And although it’s Shivers who decides his way to such a bitter end, I partly blame Monza for leading him there. But it would have been a miracle anyway if I’d ended up liking Monza, a character motivated by revenge. That’s never happened for me before. I was surprised at what becomes of her by the end and wonder if she will lean toward the Gurkish and Khalul (or whatever Bayaz’s archnemesis’ name is) or be neutral in that ultimate big battle to come between the sorcerer dudes.

“Shivers weren’t himself… he was in hell. And he liked it.”

I also wonder what will become of Shivers, he of the lacerated face. He’s now so twisted up inside, seemingly corrupted by Monza and Eider’s influences, that I wonder if he’s heading back North to possibly hunt down Logen, he of the nine fingers, to get his revenge for his brother. I also found it odd that when reflecting on his time fighting, Shivers often thought back on time spent with Dogman and crew. I didn’t get the impression that he was close to Dogman and crew to think about them so favorably or so often, so it came off as Abercrombie repeating parts of Logen’s characteristics in Shivers. I started to think of Shivers as Logen, if Logen’s adventures South caused him to become more bad than good.

So as with those first three books in the First Law trilogy, I was much more interested in the characters than the plot, especially since the plot here became tedious after a while due to the constant violence. I ended the book not really interested in the final conflict, not caring about what’s to come, and desiring a long break from Abercrombie’s books.

“It weren’t much of a joyous occasion for anyone, even on the winning side. There’s vengeance for you.”

Overall: ★★☆☆☆ ½

It started out great but lost me midway.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

Quotes from the book

“Convicts, in the main, are wonderfully polite. Bad manners can be fatal in prison.”

“When life is a cell, there is nothing more liberating than captivity.”

10 thoughts on ““Best Served Cold” by Joe Abercrombie

  1. I think we both hit the same “really, what’s the point” of this book at the same time. And I agree Cosca and Morveers sniping at each other was great.

    Only thing we disagree on I think is I liked Monza more than Shivers.


  2. Shivers is indeed a tormented character (I can totally understand your sympathy for him) and here he probably reaches the lowest point of his personal arc. If it’s any comfort, you will find a more balanced and settled Shivers in the Age of Madness trilogy – with hindsight I can tell you that his reminiscing about Dogman and the North here will find its reason of being in that later trilogy. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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