Saturday, January 29, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
ISBN: 978-0-575-048248-9

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. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers and 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 employers' taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die. 


My Thoughts:

Who doesn’t love a story about revenge?  I know I’m a fan, but I also hold a mean grudge (clearly you don't want to mess with me, so you'd best be a fan, too).  While I haven't read all too many books dealing just with the topic of revenge, this struck me as ranking high in the vengeance-genre.  Obviously, I'm a nit-picky (and lapsed) English major so I have a few issues with the book.  I do want to stress that I enjoyed reading it and regardless of any criticism it was a fun story.  Ah yes, the reviewer’s disclaimer, a feature I’m sure you all appreciate.

A particularly well-done facet of this novel was the fact that, while the book was enjoyable, I didn't really sympathize with any of the characters.  Every time I started to feel a connection with them, they would do something to make me disengage.  Despite the overall unlikeableness of the characters, the book managed to remain accessible (which is no small feat).  Clearly, these are not good people.  There are no noble soldiers here with high ideals and a spotless moral code.  Best Served Cold is a story of mercenaries, poisoners and criminals.  All of them are capable of betrayal and all of them are betrayed.  Abercrombie never lets you get comfortable in identifying with any of them.  Now, you might worry that having no emotional connection with any of the cast is a problem, but I found that it didn’t detract from reading the book.  It was actually refreshing to feel more like an observer than the protagonist’s friend or well-wisher.  Ultimately, this novel is a story of anti-heroes and it was remarkably successful.

Ah, but now comes the nit-picking!  I know you were waiting for it, like blood-thirsty scavengers of the literary world.  While the design and execution of the untrustworthy characters was excellent, there was a lot of heavy-handedness in the morality department.  This consisted mostly of bashing me over the head with the idea that revenge only leads to more revenge in an endless cycle of violence.  Most of the characters express this idea at least once over the course of the book and it started to irritate me.  About halfway through I was ready to yell at the characters to tell them that “I KNOW IT’S A FUTILE CYCLE, STOP TELLING ME!”  Alas, I’m not a crazy person so I remained politely silent and only yelled a little in my thoughts.

Honestly, the book also managed to surprise me with some of the betrayals.  Some of the plot-points were obvious, but others were masterfully wrought and I only saw the build up to them after they had happened.  It’s difficult to pull that off without seeming like you’re just throwing in plot-twists for the sake of it, but all of the twists and turns here made sense and added to the suspense of the quest.

That said, the novel could have been 100 pages shorter and it would have been just as good.  In fact, it could have been better as the end really started to drag for me and I trudged through the last 150 or so pages waiting for the pay-off rather than enjoying the action.  Maybe cutting back on the moralizing earlier on would have made a difference in that respect.

My final words?  If you like revenge stories, interspersed with quite a few large battles, politics and numerous betrayals, you will enjoy this novel.  If you prefer to read books with characters you like and want to bring home to meet mom, then you’d best stay away.

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