Springtime in Styria. And that means war.
There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. Armies march, heads roll and cities burn, while behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king...
War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso's employ, it's a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular - a shade too popular for her employer's taste. Betrayed and left for dead, Murcatto's reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.
Her allies include Styria's least reliable drunkard, Styria's most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that's all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started...
Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.
Best Served Cold is set in the same world as his last series of books, but is a stand alone novel. You don't need to have read the others to follow this. The handful of characters that repeat were B or C characters from the First Law Trilogy and were not fleshed out there. So this books stands well on it's own. If you have read the last trilogy then you will instantly recognize his gritty style. Gritty is a good word for it and Best Served Cold has more of that. Gritty cities, gritty people, gritty sex and oh so gritty battles. I guess instead of a world of black and white, he is going for a world of black and dark gray and succeeds.
Without giving much away plot wise, I'll say Best Served Cold is about revenge. It's about bad people and worse people and the goal of the main character to avenge the place they leave her at in the beginning of the story. The cast of characters she brings with her on her mission is an interesting one and give the reader a chance to latch onto different personality types. My minor complaints about the story aside, the pacing and dialogue are good and this story pulls you in and takes you along. (Also of note for those that dislike magic heavy stories is that there is little to no magic used in this.)
Much like at the end of his last story (The First Law Trilogy) I was left a bit sour after finishing this book. Abercrombie seems like someone that thinks bad endings and badder people are the only things possible. At some points in the story I was actually pulled out of the fantasy world and thinking about the author and what might be wrong with his life that no good people are in it. I'm sure that is not the case, I've heard he is a pretty upbeat guy, but it just doesn't feel that way after you put one of his books down.
Perhaps it sounds like I thought the book was bad, I did not. It was a fun read until the last quarter or so of the book (much the same way as I felt reading his trilogy) and even then it was still very interesting and I was already caught up in the story. His characters are always interesting and seem to go through characterization (even though by the end of the story, none of them have really changed at all, just like his last writing). And most of all the pacing, action and plot-work are more than enough to carry the story.
I also realize my complaint is specific. Plenty of readers enjoy dark endings, demand them even. I think they have their place, but when I spend days stuck in a bleak world I'd like to come out the other side a little better off than I started. At the very least I want to have the feeling that I cannot wait to return to the world. Not a feeling I have after finishing his work. (One of the major reasons I only just now read this book though I've had it since release).
It would have gotten four from me with a more enjoyable ending, but I can truly see other readers enjoying it regardless and thinking it deserved a higher rating. Fans of dark fantasy and his other work will definitely enjoy Best Served Cold.