Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie

Can you read Best Served Cold even though you haven't read the first law trilogy? My birthday is in a few weeks and I am trying to give the Mrs some ideas for birthday prezzies.

You *can* but I doubt you would want to. The first three serve the purpose of laying lots and lots of groundwork and drawing you in. BSC is a self-contained book, and you would most likely still enjoy it, but there's a lot of stuff you'd get from the first three, including some characters.

I'd heartily recommend reading the first three first.
I can't find anything else here on Joe's next book and while browsing his website earlier I came across this:

Coming February 2011: The Heroes

Dark fantasy meets sharp-edged war story in the standalone tale of a single great battle for control of the North, set in the world of The First Law. Taking place over three days, it follows the misadventures of six varied people on both sides of the conflict and at all levels of command, their stories played out against an epic backdrop of intrigue, ambition, betrayal and, of course, a lot of edged weapons used in anger.
It’s a fantasy war story with only one thing missing:

Ooh, a return to the north, based on a big battle, lots of edged weapons (lol) I can't wait now!
**Spoiler Warning - Seriously don't read this if you haven't read the book already**

I finally got around to reading it, and I must say I didn't like it as much as I thought I was going to.

*Shrugs* I didn't mean to be overly critical of the book, as I did enjoy it. I just didn't like the transition between small group planning revenge, and then rise to glory and big battles effecting the outcome of the kingdom.

I had a similar reaction. I had high hopes, but ended up disappointed. I liked the concept, but something felt flat to me. I think it started with Shivers basically being the Bloody Nine (one wonders why he didn't just import Logen outright) and Monza being rather uninteresting to me. Also, once their revenge plot got caught up in sieges and battles and the fate of the kingdom, it kind of gets stuck. Sure the noble hero becomes king is boring, but it's boring because it's predictable and too convenient. But having unredeemable low life scum become heroes is also predictable and too convenient.

I think this is just a small second book stumble. I imagine the seeds of First Law were with Joe for a long time before he wrote and got it published, so by comparison this work was produced in almost no time and to an extent it shows. It felt like he was trying very hard to create something different from First Law so as not to stagnate, which I respect, but he fell a little short in my mind. Instead of the grand themes of First Law (kind of a big picture look at what drives kingdoms/politics, told through the personal stories of those involved), he wrote a smaller story focusing on how those crushed under great events survive. In the end, though, he drifts back towards his comfort zone and they wind up involved in the big picture stuff, just like in First Law.

This is probably just a symptom of a new writer under a lot of pressure to present a final manuscript not having the luxury of a lifetime of honing the story/message he wanted to tell and losing his way a bit as a result. Scott Lynch seemed to go through the same thing with his second Gentleman Bastards book... a lot of great ideas, but trouble deciding what belongs/fits in the story and what doesn't. The result means some characters feel thin and the overall story is a bit muddled and uncertain where it wants to go. The writing is strong enough and the developed characters interesting enough that you can get lost in any given section, but the book as a whole is uneven and a near miss.

That said Abercrombie (and Lynch for that matter) are clearly talented and inspired writers with a lot of promising new ideas for the genre, and I've little doubt they're only going to get better now that the pressure of following up such successful and acclaimed debuts has passed.
Picked this up the other day, enjoying it so far.

Have not read his other stuff so perhaps I won't have anything to compare it with and find it lacking.
I picked up the trade paperback of this yesterday, in great shape for a measly $7.00. I have not read the trilogy.

Can this book stand alone, or am I significantly better off to read the trilogy first?
The book can definitely stand alone. It has some references to incidents in The First Law Trilogy and a few characters overlap, but you really don't need to have read the trilogy.

I would advocate getting the trilogy though, as it's fantastic.
Just finished this book, after having devoured the First Law trilogy, and I have to say that Abercrombie is a bloody genius; a wonderful, wonderful writer, possessing a fantastic writing style, the ability to craft incredibly vivid characters, awesomely cool plots and worlds and savage, nasty battle sequences. He puts me in mind of Ian M Banks in the way that he sometimes blends the comic and horrific in the same scene, without diminishing either.

Damn it, I sound like I’m his publicist or something. I really hate to sound this gushing and giddy over a writer but I haven’t read someone I enjoyed this much since Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon.

It’s interesting to read different reactions to this book in the thread. I’m surprised that people found it disappointing, I found it utterly gripping, but then I’m quite happy to read long sections of limb-hacking and eye gouging as long as it’s well written and involves characters that I care about. I’m something of an action-junkie when it comes to fiction, so that might be my own bias for a good sword-fight overwhelming my judgment.

The cameos from other characters, the way that the over-arching plot from the First Law continues to bubble away as a driving force without becoming the main focus, it all just came together to form book that was a joy for me to read. It didn’t have the epic scope of The First Law, but then I don’t think it was trying to have that (thought the epic story does rumble away nicely in the background and between the lines of the narrative). I think it just set out to be a dirty revenge story with lots of battles and for me it worked perfectly.

I didn’t have a problem with Shiver’s eventual turn around on Monza, I think it was handled very well. He’s a man with a bloody, nasty past who tries to put that behind him and do “the right thing,” only to have horrific experiences as a result. Compounded by the cynicism fed to him by Monza throughout the story, the self-pity (with some justification) over what he was put through in the dungions, the love-turning-to-jelousy-turning-to-hate when Monza seemingly abandons him for a more suitable lover and his manipulation at the hands Carlot Dan Eider all seemed to be very plausible in turning a man with a dark side but good intentions in to a man who just thought “Screw it” and focused all of his rage and frustration on the woman who got him into this mess.

Okay, I’m going to stop now. I’m not Abercrombie’s publicist, I swear. Maybe when I’ve calmed down I’ll go back over the book and try to find something that sucked.

Dear Friends, I have just finished the book and I have one question for those of you who have already read it. I am from Spain and I have read it in english so maybe I did not understand one issue.

Attention Spoiler:

When Morveer poisons all the bottles in Cosca's room, why does he think that Cosca is finished when he sees him drinking from the flask?

A rapid spectrum of emotions had swept over Morveer during the past few moments. Triumphant delight, as he had seen Cosca drink from his flask and all unknowing doom himself.

Am I missing something?

Thanks in advance

My impression of that sequence is that Morveer assumed Cosca had just filled up the flask from one of the bottle’s he’d poisoned, as he’d poisoned all the alcohol. Cosca, however, had filled up from the goat. J

The book can definitely stand alone. It has some references to incidents in The First Law Trilogy and a few characters overlap, but you really don't need to have read the trilogy.

I would advocate getting the trilogy though, as it's fantastic.
I'd slightly disagree there. I think that, whilst the book can certainly be read without reading the first law, I think that a lot of the fun in this book comes from seeing old characters pop-up again in unexpected places, and the underlying "epic plot/hidden war" involving the Banking House of Valint and Balk and the Gurkish Empire will be mostly lost on you unless you know what was going on in the first law, as well as the nature of Shenkt and Sufler. Thier behaviour and the source of their powers will make little sense without some of the background info in the original trilogy.
having read all his books to date, I thought Best Served Cold was the best. A great thriller. The tale of revenge turned sour.

I do feel sorry for Shivers though, he always seems to get had... but I think that's what Joe wants.
Really enjoyed this and just posted a review on the front end of the site:

What I really enjoyed most about this was the moral complexity - not least all the presumptions about Monza which you are led to believe are true from the start of the book, only to find that it was actually Brenna was the architect of much she took the blame for.

While some of the character tropes looked a little familiar at the beginning, I think they really developed their own unique voice through this.

I think my only real complaint about the characters was that Cosca reads too much like Johnny Depp's character from Pirates of the Caribbean. Or maybe I just thought he'd play the role perfectly. :)

Overall, considering how many fantasy writers we have featured on chronicles, I'm really surprised more members aren't talking about Abercrombie.

Best Served Cold I think is one of the most enjoyable fantasies I've read for a long time, even if a little grim in places. :)
Just read it, but I haven't read the First Law trilogy yet. I think it's fine on its own :) I really liked the style Abercrombie writes in-- he doesn't use unnecessary words and uses all of the RIGHT words. Not a lot of flowery prose, which was a welcome change from what I've read lately!
Spoiler Alert for The Departed, The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables.... oh yeah, Best Serve Cold, too.

I finished BSC in October. My feelings are along the lines of Nonesuch's and soulsinging's. There was a lot of good story and good characters, but it did not quite work.

Revenge is always a great motivation for the protagonist. The problem is that Monza quickly lost the role of protagonist. Then Shivers became the protagonist, but he also lost it. I was not about to believe that Cosca was really going to become the protagonist. Was Friendly supposed to be the protagonist? Maybe. He was an interesting character... very defined. But really, I did not identify with him in the slightest. So the revenge angle was not satisfying because Monza had thrown away all sympathy. At least when Edmond Dantes used his hidden fortune to exact his revenge, I felt that he still had the moral high ground.

That was my problem with the story... Abercrombie left me without a relatable character. I understand he wants to be nitty gritty, dark, nasty, realistic.... but that is a major problem from which most of current storytelling in lit, movies, and tv suffer... no identifiable characters. By the end of LOST, I no longer identified with neither Jack nor Sawyer. The Sopranos never had any characters to whom I could relate... the show was well done and gritty and I lost interest. Martin Scorcese's The Departed had an all star cast and had a twisting, thrilling plot... but really who cared? All decent characters, except for Vera Farmiga's, were killed.

How about Les Miserables? Valjean stays the protagonist because he keeps the moral high ground in his decades long feud with Javert. When Javert finally figures out he's never had the moral high ground, he kills himself. Which almost brings me to the point of moving from revenge to redemption... almost.

Some of you may know me from my posts regarding George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Revenge is a major theme of that story. Some of it is fulfilled and some is not. But Martin, in my opinion, has kept my interest because for every five nasty villians, he keeps one protagonist. Or he introduces story elements to make his antagonists sympathetic, eg. Jaime and Tyrion Lannister.

Which brings me to the topic of redemption. Revenge is good, but redemption is better. Abercrombie constantly flirts with redemption for Monza, Cosca, Friendly, and especially Shivers. But in the end, all of them either reject it or deny it exists. This was a big let down for me.

Did you read David Gemmell's Legend? Compare the dialogue, the plot, the subtleties, the character developments of Legend to Best Served Cold. I'd say that Abercrombie wins hands down in every category. Legend was a very simple story with simple characters in an even simpler plot. Rek and Druss are identifiable characters in a crisis. Druss is dying. Rek is battling self doubts. Comparing them to Monza, Shivers, Morveer, and Cosca is like comparing a puddle in my driveway to the Marianas Trench. There is an order of magnitude difference in depth. But Rek, whose life was a wreck, is redeemed.

Don't get me wrong, Monza's struggle for survival, Shivers' brave new world, and Cosca's alcoholism are all relatable issues, but their moral choices left me misliking them.

His characters were inspired, but not inspiring.

I like the dark fantasy with gritty realistic elements, but some of the characters need to be at least gray and not all black.

On the positive side, Abercrombie's language, dialogues, and setting up of scenes was excellent. Friendly, Shivers, Morveer, and Cosca all had distinct speech and thought patterns. They were easy to identify and fun to read.

I always had strong images in my head of each town, each building, and each room. JA really does a great job of setting each scene.

He also set the twists in the plot well. The best device he used was in the dueling sex scenes. I thought it was Monza and Shivers for at least half of the chapter. When I realized they were having sex, but in seperate rooms with different people, I wanted to congratulate JA for fooling me in that manner. I had to reread it just to make sure I understood.

BSC was like The Dirty Dozen of Monte Cristo. There was a lot of good presentation, thems, and obvious skill in BSC, but it just did not quite work for me.

I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Machiavellian fantasy.
I would disagree that this one had no relatable characters. Monza as a character is no more evil than many of the characters from the first 3 books and, as the book develops, you realise that she was barely responsible for many of the events that earned her such a dark reputation. She is merely a skilled general who happens to be a mercenary.

In terms of the actual story I think by the end it had become obvious that Benna was guilty of what Orso had tried to have them killed for. It was a great twist on the revenge story that in the end Monza got her revenge but realised I think that Benna deserved to die.

Probably the only part of the story that didn’t really work was Shivers. It just seemed like flicking a switch to turn him evil. People compare it with ninefingers but to me that was just seeing the same person in a different setting really and how people lie to themselves.
Spoiler Alert! Possible spoilers for Best Served Cold. Definite spoilers for Red Country.

I posted my reaction to BSC, above, in 2013. Despite having a lofty opinion of my morals and a disliking for the characters, I somehow read Red Country in 2017... and was thrilled with it. So I re read BSC and was thrilled. Then I picked up the trilogy and was thrilled again. Then I read The Heroes... thrilled.

How did I come to like a book that I disliked? First, I somehow gave Abercrombie another chance with RC. Lamb opened my eyes. In BSC, I had read Shivers' failed vengeance upon his brother's killer... and a friend had mentioned Bethod's former champion in a discussion on fantastic fighters (Elric, Aragorn, Druss, BFS, etc.) But as I said, Lamb opened my eyes. Second, I embraced despising despicable characters. Monza is not to be praised. Shivers can be pitied. Cosca is a cautionary tale. I guess I don't have to like a character to like the book, especially when the pace, the feel, the characters, and the twists are this good.

But still, Shenkt's final appearance is a bit of deus ex machina. Shenkt needs a defter touch. He needs an agent. Showing up himself shows he's not nearly on Bayaz' level.

Let me move on to the real reason I came here to post...

Guttersnipe started a thread Novels About Autism. The character that came to my mind was Friendly. In my first reading, I thought him a sociopath. But now I think he definitely possesses some aspects of autism. He has difficulty understanding others' motivations. No one relates to his needs. He has a prodigious memory for numbers. He comforts himself in a dangerous world by counting... everything. He repetitive behavior brings solace. Being counted give a sense of belonging. He latched on to Sajaam and to Cosca because because they gave him repetitive jobs.
This is one of my all time favorite books. If you enjoy dark tales treat yourself to this gem.

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