Friday, August 7, 2009

Best Served Cold: A Review

And on that note...

OK, here it is, the moment you've all been waiting for...

A Review of Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie:

Not your typical Fantasy fare here... though who's to say what's typical anymore? No dragons, or traditional quest parties or damsels in distress locked away in a far-off tower here. What you have here is a bloody tale of bloody revenge by a bloody woman... did I mention it's bloody?

Monza Murcatto and her brother Benna are the heads of a mercenary army called the Thousand Blades, the strongest pawn that Duke Orso has on the board in his quest to become King of a united Styria. Though mercenaries are disloyal by nature, willing to switch sides whenever a better payday presents itself, Monza has stayed true to her service to Orso, and has won many great victories on his behalf. Her stature has increased with "the people" with each victory, and the Duke's mounting paranoia leads him to cut off the potential problem before it surfaces. Monza is rewarded for her service with a betrayal that was to be fatal to both her and her brother. Against impossible odds, she survives and begins a quest of vengeance unlike any you've likely read before, on the seven people responsible for her betrayal.

That sets up the tale nicely, I think. At this point, I could rattle off the standard review cliches for such non-stop, action-filled, tense and rewarding thrill-rides, but your eyes would likely glaze over, in spite of the fact that these cliches (and more) would honestly apply here. Been there, done that, eh? There are solid, memorable characters in this story. The pace is relentless. The blood runs to the depth of a horse's bridle for a distance of 300 miles. If you've read and enjoyed Abercrombie's First Law series, you'll be right at home with this book. It is easy to read, with sharp dialog, and plenty of humor.

But it wasn't all sunshine and roses on my end. The over-arching message that "vengeance always costs more than you think it will, and the returns are far less than you hope it will be" is really drummed into the reader, from the get-go. He isn't very subtle about it either; over and over, that sentiment is stated plainly, and while it is a strong theme, I question using it like a mace to beat the reader over the head so frequently throughout the story, up to and including the final page. I'd like to think it does not reflect Abercrombie's opinion of the Fantasy Reader in general, and his/her ability to "get it" without having to have it spelled out, repeatedly.

The author is certainly not shy with sex and profanity throughout the book as well, which always has me scratching my head a bit. Yes, that touches a personal issue of mine, so I won;t elaborate upon it here. I bring it up just to let you know what to expect, should you decide to give the book a reading. It does little for the story, in my opinion.

There are certain interactions between a few of the characters that struck me as illogical and/or out of character. And some of the action-adventure tropes are liberally used here as well, which sort of cheapened the experience for me. But the battles are well-written and effective, and there are enough surprises (albeit mild) to keep you guessing and reading through to the end.

So to what type of person would I recommend this book? Definitely not the squeamish or the easily offended. It's a gritty, bloody, darkly humorous, and occasionally disappointing, but well-written. If you are a fan of the genre, and have a thick skin, and the ability to let the language and the puzzling adult content roll off your back, then by all means, give it a go.


havah said...

Cool review, Dave. The basic premise sounds interesting but, I'll be honest, I wouldn't have gotten past the cover. I'm such a baby. :-/

Paula Titus said...

Nice review. Doesn't sound like my cup of tea, although with all of your goings on about his earlier books, I may have to give them a looksy.

Krista said...

Great review! Man, I'm really looking forward to starting AB's First Law trilogy!