Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold is his latest gritty fantasy novel, published in June 2009. This standalone novel is set in the same imaginary world as Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, but concentrates on the region of the Free Cities of Styria.

The story is that of the mercenary general Monza Murcatto, until recently in the employ of the Duke Orso of Talins as she sets out seeking revenge on those responsible for her brother’s death and for throwing her down a mountain. To attain her goal she picks up a strange group of companions, or employees, as she is hiring them, and travels across all of Styria, chasing her future victims while at same time dabbling in the decade-long war between the independent cities of Styria.

Abercrombie’s writing in Best Served Cold is enthralling. It relatively simplistic yet it gets across exactly the right feeling. The story itself is quite different from the typical revenge-seeking story and it is filled, like an added bonus, with political intrigue and plot twists similar to those Abercrombie previously displayed in the First Law Trilogy. The pace starts out quickly and the author very early on gives pay off. The plot is mostly concise, something extremely rare in a fantasy novel, yet it leaves enough room for the mind to question and wonder.

Best Served Cold is definitely gritty and dark, and so it is logical that its characters are also. I believe that they are all portrayed realistically with great flaws and surprisingly little redeeming values in some cases. Some characters, like Nicola Cosca, have superb character arcs in term of personality growth and change while some, it seems, grow very little or even backwards.

I appreciated the references and occasional apparitions of characters or events from the First Law Trilogy, which helps stabilize the setting for those readers who have read it. This book is definitely a must read for those fantasy lovers who have enjoyed other authors such as George R.R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Steven Erikson, etc. (aka. Dark, gritty fantasy) or anyone who enjoys darker and more realistic fiction. Note however, that there is no magic in this novel, another factor that makes it stand out from conventional fantasy, or if there was there wasn’t much and I didn’t even catch it.

Summarizing Info:
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up (14-15 if you’ve read novels of the kind before)
Violence: A lot. And quite brutal, stuff like head smashing with rocks and such…
Sex/Language: Quite extensive use of Fuck, Shit, Bitch and other rude vocabulary. Also quite a few sex scenes but if they don’t generally bother you then they won’t here

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