Best Serve Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie

What is best served hot?

a) Flesh
b) Blood
c) Slaughter
d) Desire
e) Revenge*

*also delicious served cold

Best Served Cold delivers all of the above in a warm-blooded fashion. this is a sweaty, fully engorged adventure novel that follows a diverse cast as they move from locale to locale on their own sort of anti-quest. although it spends much time examining the psychological make-up of its characters, is heavy reliant on the kinds of details usually found in military fantasy, and is not shy of graphic sexual and violent detail, it still lives and breathes all of the classic, instantly recognizable tropes of adventure fiction - to its credit. tropes are tropes for a reason: their familiarity creates an ideal framework on which to hang a plot and a range ideas - a plot and ideas that may variously play into or challenge those tropes, depending on the author's goals. this author wants to do both, and he succeeds. his book is complex and simplistic, old-fashioned and very modern.

synopsis: sibling mercenary leaders Monza and Benna Murcatto are betrayed by their employer during a meeting that ends in violence and murder. the six people in the room besides the Murcattos (plotters and bystanders alike) must now die, and so a colorful band of miscreants are assembled for just that purpose. thus the fun begins. don't let the title fool you into thinking that this is a book of cunning feints and subtle plots and a diabolical machinations. far from it. its characters may be cold-blooded but Abercrombie serves his adventure yarn quite hot.

the author is well-known for his bleak world view and this novel is certainly more of the same. not a real hero to be found within these pages - although there are plenty of characters who are truly complicated. or at the very least, amusingly and/or sympathetically depicted. being forced to ride along such a cynical perspective could potentially make for a depressing experience; fortunately, the author's cynicism is matched by his ability to make his characters consistently entertaining and often surprisingly funny. dark humor - but still humor! I appreciate that. although a 600+ page doorstopper, the book is far from a heavy one to read and is often an exciting, page-turning experience rather that one submerged in the sort of fatalism that makes me less than eager to read what will happen next. humor is the MVP in Best Served Cold (and after that would come Abercrombie's skill at writing cinematic action sequences).

unfortunately, there is a Least Valuable Player present and it is that incredibly aggravating flaw that seems to be prevalent across so much of modern fantasy and science fiction: REPETITION. ugh. it is so frustrating to see smart, talented authors like C.J. Cherryh, Patrick Rothfuss, Janny Wurts, George R.R. Martin, Jacqueline Carey, C.S. Friedman, Peter Hamilton, Connie Willis, and I'm sure many more, fall prey to the idea that their readers simply can't be trusted to remember traits integral to their characters, and so those traits and feelings are conveyed, via dialogue and thought processes, over and over and over, again and again and again and again and AGAIN. readers are not idiots who need to be repeatedly reminded about important details because their tiny little minds don't have the capacity to retain an important piece of information over the course of the book. repetition does not make the heart grow fonder; it make the mind grow numb.

but back to the compliments because despite that glaring flaw, I still loved reading this book.

so I'm a secretly sentimental sort of chap and despite my cynicism about people and life in general, I still believe that deep down most of us actually recognize the difference between good and evil, feel guilt about negative actions, and genuinely strive to be good - when that's possible. I doubt many people get off on their villainy. happily, Abercrombie shares my point of view - and only the most superficial read of his books would enable a person to come away thinking that the author writes everyone as a villain. assholes, yes; villains, no. like his First Law trilogy, Best Served Cold has protagonists who try to do good despite themselves and who do attempt - sometimes too late - to make up for regrettable actions. they regret things, they try to make amends, they see the need for change - even when they are also alienated or bloodthirsty or Machiavellian. I hate cheap positivity but I hate cheap nihilism even more. this novel has all the appeal of a dark, cynical adventure novel set in a bleak, war-torn landscape, but it still has a warmly beating human heart at its center. I wouldn't have loved it otherwise.