“One cannot grow without pain. One cannot improve without it. Suffering drives us to achieve great things.”
I’ve postponed starting Best Served Cold, the first book in Abercrombie’s First Law standalone trilogy, for almost a year now due to the reason that I thought it will pale in comparison to the first trilogy, although it’s the weakest so far, it’s still so much better than a lot of grimdark book out there. The year is now 579 AU, two years after the events of ‘Last Argument of Kings’, it is now springtime in Styria and that means, war and revenge. The premise of the book is very simple. Monza Murcatto, betrayed by Grand Duke Orso, which resulted in her brother’s death and her crippled state, determined to find her own crew and execute the seven personnel responsible. That’s literally the main plot; it’s that simple, basically like Assassin Creed II or Kill Bill, except on steroid. Unlike The First Law trilogy, there aren’t a lot of twists and turns to be found here, it’s very linear and direct, but as always, Abercrombie handled his book with brilliance by giving more focus on the characters and actions rather than the simple plot, making this an incredible tale full of not only vengeance and gore, but also humor and redemption.
Picture: Monza vs Ganmark (Interior Art from Best Served Cold Subterranean Press edition)
Characterization has always been one of Abercrombie’s greatest strength, and this book proved it even more. All six characters with POV’s received proper background, distinctive voice, unique personality and greatly written development, just within one book. I do however, recommend you to read the First Law trilogy first before starting this one despite it being a standalone due to the reason that some side characters from the trilogy do make an appearance here, Caul Shivers and Nicomo Cosca in particular became the main characters in this book. For me, both Shiver and Cosca truly made this book shine for me, but for the main character, the trophy goes to Friendly, a mass murderer with obsessive compulsive disorder towards dice and numbers that I find very compelling and hilarious to read.
“What do the dice say?"
Dice say nothing. They are dice."
Why roll'em, then?"
They are dice. What else would I do with them?”
The dialogues and interaction between characters are damn fun to read. Also, once again, Abercrombie proved his skill with writing intricate and immersive action sequences. His writing always managed to pull me into the midst of the actions that it felt so vivid reading them. Wars, duels, gore, and many other thrilling action sequences are all here, despite it being a standalone.
Picture: Monza charging (Interior Art from Best Served Cold Subterranean Press edition)
Other than the fantastic characterization and actions, if you’ve read Abercrombie’s book, you should already know by now that he’s a master of creating memorable catchphrases. I’ll leave those phrases for you to find out for yourself. I would like to however, direct your attention to these quotes to show how beautifully philosophical his prose can be, other than being gritty and witty.
“That was the difference between a hero and a villain, a soldier and a murderer, a victory and a crime. Which side of a river you called home.”
And this one
“Things aren't what they used to be' is the rallying cry of small minds. When men say things used to be better, they invariably mean they were better for them, because they were young, and had all their hopes intact. The world is bound to look a darker place as you slide into the grave.”
The only factor stopping me from giving this book a full rating is because of the main character herself, Monza. Every Abercrombie’s characters up until now tends to have moral grey code but one of his biggest strength as an author is that he always managed to make every one of them realistic and lovable, you just can’t help but root for them, I can’t find that feeling for Monza. She’s highly selfish, despicable, disgusting, treated everyone like garbage, doesn’t have color to her personality, all she did was fuck, order her crew, blame everything on them, and many more. I just can’t find any redeeming aspect about her and throughout the book; I kept on wishing her, the main character, to die. That’s never a good thing in my dictionary. However, this also proves once again why multi third person perspectives narrative will always be my favorite. If this book was done in first person narrative from Monza’s POV only, I already know this book won’t receive a higher than two rating from me. Monza is in fact, one of my most disliked protagonists in a book, ever.
My problem with the main character aside, there’s nothing else that Best Served Cold did wrong. The first book in the standalone trilogy turns out to be a fantastic addition to ‘The First Law’ series, contrary to my initial pessimism. Although Best Served Cold is technically the weakest First Law book by Abercrombie so far, it doesn’t change the fact that the quality remains impressive as always. I highly recommend any fans of the first trilogy to continue with this one, you might find yourself surprised by how good it is like I did, you might even enjoy it more.