Aug 25, 2009

YetiReview: Best Served Cold

21 Words or Less: A bloody story of revenge filled with murder, mayhem, and a memorable cast of characters as endearing as they are dysfunctional.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Good: Strong, interesting antiheros that you can’t help but cheer for; world-class action sequences that put you in the story; a fast-paced, well-plotted story that twists and turns but never loses momentum

The Bad: A few too many reused characters/connections from The First Law; some plot twists work better than others; still no map

Preview (contains publisher’s description, expectations, and other thoughts)

Your average fantasy author wouldn't use murderers, traitors, and psychopaths as the bad guys. But then again, Joe Abercrombie is not your average fantasy author. In Best Served Cold, the standalone revenge tale set in the same fantasy world as his highly praised First Law trilogy, Abercrombie takes mercenaries and barbarians, poisoners and serial killers and not only writes them as the focus of the story but inexplicably manages to make you care enough about them to cheer them on. If Joe ever suffers from crippling writer’s block (god forbid) and he needs to take on a day job, he’d make good money as a defense attorney. He’s got an uncanny ability to make a hardened killer seem like the luckless underdog. Friendly. Monza. Morveer. Without giving any surprises away (and there are plenty of them), these are just three of the brilliant characters that you’ll remember as long as Glotka, Ninefingers, and Bayaz from the original trilogy.

I could go on and on about how great the characters are but I want to be clear that Best Served Cold is by no means a character study. It’s a full blown revenge fantasy for the sake of Khalul! It’s fast paced, tightly plotted, and beautifully violent. Now, beautiful isn’t a word I typically use to describe violence but Abercrombie writes an action scene that is easily envisioned and almost effortlessly enchanting to the point where I would be tempted to say Abercrombie is writes the best fight scene in the genre today. It's arguable that the action reads as smoothly as watching a movie scene but when you’re filming a movie there’s a limit to what you can do without CGI (or at least without killing your actors). And while the action might seem gratuitous at times, it never is. Best Served Cold is tightly plotted and ever detail serves to further the plot, set up a twist later on, or provide a hint at the bigger war between the Gurkish and the Union. Unlike most standard fantasy, Abercrombie’s sandbox is not tied to one individual destined for greatness. Instead there’s a bigger conflict going on behind the scenes and it’s still not clear who the good guys are, if there are any. Essentially you’ve got morally ambiguous and altogether untrustworthy characters working for powerful men with divided loyalties who are mere puppets of shadow organizations with bottomless coffers and hidden agendas all of their own. If that doesn’t allow for unexpected plot twists, sudden reversals of fortune, and endlessly intriguing chaos, there isn’t too much more to ask for.

I was really tempted to give Joe a 5-star on this one and Best Served Cold by any other author would probably have earned it. But Abercrombie is so good, he’s judged by a higher standard. The main issue that held me back was Abercrombie’s propensity for reusing characters from his First Law Trilogy. 2 of the main characters appeared in Abercrombie’s first trilogy as well as several minor names. While I can’t blame him for wanting to reuse his typically spectacular characters, a few characters were shoehorned into the novel in ways that seemed too convenient to be plausible, particularly when this novel was set across the sea from the setting of his first trilogy. (Although I wouldn’t know for sure since we still don’t have a map!) Some inclusions worked wonderfully and felt natural, others came across as forced. In much the same way, a few of Best Served Cold’s twists strained plausibility, particularly one character’s unexpected return and another pair’s romantic relationship. Hopefully in the next entry in this outstanding series, Abercrombie can balance these cameos in a slightly more subtle fashion.

This is only Abercrombie’s fourth novel and there isn’t a weakling in the bunch. It’s amazing how already I consider Abercrombie to be one of the best fantasy authors in almost every category. Characters, action, dialogue, plot, world building? It’s all there and it’s all top-notch. Abercrombie is the king of blood-soaked fantasy. Or at least a prince with a pile of gold, a hidden dagger, and an eye on the throne.

1 comment:

  1. Saw your review link on your comment of Joe^s blog.

    Well, this is a nicely written and excellent formulated review. And so true....



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