And so we come to Best Served Cold, which is the last of these rereads I’ll be doing for the time being. The Heroes was pretty recent and I feel it’s still pretty firmly in mind, and the nominal aim of this exercise was to familiarise myself with past characters and events while finishing work on Red Country rather than only to heap glory upon myself. That said, Best Served Cold is fucking excellent, which is nice.
Huge Spoilers! Those who haven’t read Best Served Cold look away NOW! And indeed buy and read it NOW! Or at any rate buy it. Reading is optional.
Some background may be helpful. This was my fourth book, but in many ways my difficult second project, as Before They are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings obviously continued with the same characters and plotlines as The Blade Itself. Plus it was the first book I started work on with books out there in the marketplace and therefore with (at least a little bit) of expectation from readers and critics. I’d written Last Argument of Kings in fourteen months, with relatively little blood, sweat and tears, and I expected this to be that little bit more straightforward again as I devoted more time to my writing, my craft improved and so forth. How wrong I was. Probably this was my most difficult book to write, I was crippled with doubts and worries about it pretty much from the start. It’s hard to put myself in that mindset now, but I think I considered giving up on it a couple of times. Certainly the challenge of coming up with new characters, new voices, new locations, a new style of storytelling approach, on a schedule and with people waiting, was vastly much more difficult and pressurised than I’d expected. In the end it took about 20 months to write, I think, and for a great deal of that time I was deeply worried that it would turn out … let’s say a little bit shit, and indeed that I’d never write anything as good as The First Law again. ‘Well, not every book can be your best…’ said with a mournful shrug of the shoulders was a frequent refrain of that time, as I recall.
Partly I think that was entirely inevitable having, against any expectations, finished “that project I’d always dreamed of writing since a young lad”, and having used up a lot of the ideas I’d come up with during, well, my life (alright, stolen from other writers) in writing The First Law. Partly it was difficulties with making the central character, Monza, work. Even back then (I was starting to plan this book probably around the time Before They are Hanged came out) I was a little dissatisfied with what I’d done with the women in The First Law, and I wanted to try my hand at a woman in the lead role. One would desire that the writing of a female character should be identical to a male one (not necessarily that the characters should feel identical whether male or female, but that the writing process should be the same with the same aim of producing the most vivid, interesting, authentic, multi-dimensional character possible), but I think there are actually a whole range of factors that make writing women more difficult than writing men if you’re a man. There are elements of the female experience you’re always going to be slightly guessing at. Just as one example, you’re probably going to have a lot of direct experience of how groups of men behave, you’ll hopefully have at least some experience of how men and women behave around each other, but by definition you probably won’t know much directly about how groups of women behave. The likelihood is extremely high that you won’t personally have had to deal with sexism in the same way. Stuff like that. And then you’ve probably read, watched, absorbed a shit-load of male-centric media of one kind or another as well, and not a lot of female-centric. You can research, you can ask questions, but watching How to Make an American Quilt just ain’t much substitute for, you know, being a woman. Plus you’re probably aware that your women characters are going to be exposed to a kind of scrutiny your male ones probably won’t be. If you’re writing tight point of view that slight distance, that slight doubt, perhaps a tendency to over-think and over-worry, can amount to some significant trouble in making a female character effortlessly pop in perhaps the way your male ones do. I’m by no means saying that it’s not possible for men to write good women, but for me, at least, I think it adds a level of difficulty – it’s definitely been something I’ve had – and continue to have – to work at. Anyway, Monza was difficult, and there were a lot of exacerbating factors: she was a central character in a way that I hadn’t had before, Glokta, Logen and Jezal had pretty much equal screen time in The First Law but here Monza’s PoV accounted for not much less than half the whole book, so the stakes were high. She was entirely the driving force of the book as well – Glokta, Logen and Jezal had minimal agency, they tended to very much react to events being directed from elsewhere, whereas Monza’s quest for vengeance was the engine from which all the events in Best Served Cold had to flow. And she was fundamentally not particularly likeable, especially to begin with, she’s cold, tough, calculating, ruthless, ultra single-minded. It wasn’t until I got to the end of my first draft that I really felt she resolved in my own mind, and I got a handle on how to make her work, mostly through a lot of cutting and streamlining. I think she does work, but doesn’t necessarily offer that immediately likeable, relatable, vivid central thread that Logen, and maybe even Glokta, give you in The First Law.
Best Served Cold certainly got good reviews at the time, not least from GRRM who described it as “a kind of splatterpunk sword n’ sorcery Count of Monte Cristo,” tee hee, still pleased with that one three years later, but looking at reader sites it’s probably my least liked book. Or at any rate my most divisive one. The most often disliked. On Goodreads it scores 4.06 compared to an average for me of 4.14, on Librarything 3.98 compared to 4.15 overall, on Amazon UK 3.8 compared to 4.2 for The Blade Itself and, for instance, a whacking 4.5 for The Heroes. Not massively significant, but noticeable, I’d say. Out of 69 reviews on amazon UK, it has 10 three star, 10 two star, and 4 one star. The Heroes has 56 reviews, with just 3 three star, 1 two star, and no one star. Obviously how a book scores on amazon is far from the only method of assessing its success, but still interesting. Some common criticisms, then, and whether they struck a chord with me having reread:
It’s not book four of the First Law. Well duh.
Monza isn’t likeable. As detailed above, there’s certainly some truth to this, but the degree of her unlikeability, as well as whether an unlikeable protagonist is necessarily a big problem, is going to depend on the reader. I actually found her pretty likable this time, or certainly relatable. She’s strong to a fault, savage even, but as the story unfolds we see she’s less evil than she seems, or even than she thinks, and not without her weaknesses, failings, guilt, occasional tendencies towards mercy for all they never do her any good. I actually think the little flashbacks that precede each part work really well, not only in breaking up the story into episodes, but in drip-feeding the reader a different interpretation of the past, one she can never present to others, or perhaps even to herself, she’s so trapped behind her own image of ruthlessness. It’s not necessarily that she improves so much as we come to see her differently as the story goes on. She gets no better than ambiguous, I guess, but she does at least get that far. More subtle than the way I usually tend to do these things, and asking more of the reader to rehabilitate an unlikeable character than to make them doubt a likeable one, but I still liked her and, much more importantly for me, since I’d much rather find a character interesting than likeable, found her deep and relatively convincing. I guess you could say she’s very masculine, fitting unapologetically into the hole that an ultra-macho male lead could occupy in this kind of story. She’s tough, self-reliant, hard-headed, ruthless, single-minded, decisive, arrogant, risk-taking, suspicious, manipulative, prone to verbal and physical violence, dominant in pretty much all her relationships. A man with tits, I think I’ve seen her described as, but that’s always seemed a really strange criticism to me, as though there’s only a certain range of behaviour within which a female character can be convincing. So Monza not likeable? I’m not that arsed.
It’s too bleak and nasty. Well, you can’t expect me to take this one too seriously, can you? I mean, yeah, it’s dark. The body count, certainly in the supporting characters, is way high, if not to say comprehensive. It’s savage. There’s a lot of intense violence and a fair bit of explicit sex and none of that is particularly … loving. Nothing is sugar-coated, that’s for sure. The scene with the eye may well be the most uncompromisingly nasty I’ve written, and Shivers’ plotline and descent into careless evil is, well, pretty horrible. Certainly I think it’s fair to say that there’s not a lot of warm human emotion going on – everyone is treacherous, everyone’s after revenge, most relationships are ones of necessity between desperate people and end in disappointment. But, you know, it’s about war, treachery and revenge. What do you expect? I actually think the ending is a good deal more positive than the First Law. There’s every indication that Monza is going to be pretty damn successful as a ruler. She ain’t touchy feely, but she’s pretty damn ruthlessly competent, that’s for sure. Related is an occasional complaint that this book lacks the sense of humour of the trilogy, and I must say I don’t see that at all. Cosca has some great lines but there’s also what I consider to be some funny stuff from Rogont, from Morveer, even from Shivers and Friendly, and Monza herself, though you wouldn’t call her jolly, can produce some acid laughs. Overall I thought the timing had only improved. So too bleak and nasty? Nah, just bleak and nasty enough.
It’s too long. I suspect this one somewhat depends. If you’re loving it you might think it was too short. The treatment had predicted a length of 150-175,000 words and the first two parts came in at around 25,000 words each, so had things stayed that way I would have hit the target with seven parts. As I introduced other points of view, though, especially Cosca, and the murders became more convoluted and bound up in larger plots, the parts (perhaps predictably) started to expand. In the end the book came in just a little shorter than Last Argument of Kings, somewhere around 228,000 words. It might well have been better to go for six, or maybe five men to be killed and therefore five parts, perhaps trimming one or two of the points of view, but I’d have had to make that decision pretty early on. Certainly I think, having gone with seven and worked out what the locations and content would be for each, I had to stick to the plan and let the book be the length it needed to be. I certainly don’t feel it’s bloated myself, it feels tight in the writing. I guess you could say that there’s always going to be a fundamental similarity between the parts – a man to kill, a plan to do it, the execution of it, onto the next, but it’s hard to see which part you’d cut – I made an effort to give each ‘episode’ a different tone, a different target, a different approach, a different backdrop, plus the broadening of the scale to finally bring in the whole politics of Styria works nicely, and the changing (or perhaps disintegrating) relationships within Monza’s dysfunctional fellowship move at the right pace. So, yeah, maybe could have been that little bit shorter, but no huge regrets from me here, except of course that I could’ve been paid the same for less work, curse it…
Generally speaking, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing felt nice and tight. A slight tendency toward listiness in some of the descriptions but overall I thought the settings came across vividly – worldbuilding ain’t especially my thing but I think I did reasonably well at it here, the cities are distinct and there are some very memorable scenes. I also noticed, or perhaps was reminded of, a few neat tricks of writing that I’d forgotten about – the seven men to be killed all have an animal with which they’re metaphorically associated – Mauthis a vulture, Gobba a pig, Faithful an old hound and so on – then the different parts all have a different style of imagery that keeps coming up – Visserine is full of painterly or sculptural metaphors, Westport of financial ones, and so on. Perhaps the first half of the book is a little stronger and more focused than the second, but I noticed nowhere where things really started to flag. The sequences in and around Cardotti’s House of Leisure I think are some of my best, really good use of alternating PoV, nice building of tension, nice description, nice shocks and surprises. That scene in which Cosca and Shivers select entertainers for the party I really enjoyed – funny, nimble, quick, delivering loads of information about the principals and their relationship while providing laughs and advancing the plot. Cracking multiple action sequence at the end as well, and I felt in general the action was varied and punchy enough to keep interest where it slightly flagged at times in Last Argument. Good pacing in this book, the seven episode structure worked well, there was a constant feel of cutting to the chase, the plot unfolds neatly and delivers surprises, the complimentary arcs of Shivers’ decline and Monza’s rehabilitation worked well for me, and there are some able supporting performances from Cosca, Friendly, Shenkt, Morveer, Vitari and others. The dialogue really sings at times. Of the four books I’d say I enjoyed it and Before They are Hanged the most. Probably this one I came closest to simply reading as, well, a reader would. I even felt that slightly mournful feeling when I finished it this morning. Ooooh, though, I wish he’d write another….
94 comments so far
Joe I just read this one myself and tend to agree with your assessment of it here. Overall I really enjoyed it and thought the clarity and tightness of your story and imagery were improved over your past works. It came out with a bang and many times it read like some sort of blockbuster movie; exhilarating, fun, and well over the top.
I did like the first half more than the second, there were some really memorable scenes in the first half and the subsequent decline was a little depressing. But I think it all came together well and there was some memorably stuff in the second part and a satisfying ending. All in all a very entertaining read.
As for writing a female’s perspective when you are a man, well I imagine that has to be extremely difficult. Not sure what people would really expect from that. Some descriptive terms did tend to get used a lot, but you are bound to re-use a word or two over a 228,000 word book.
At any rate I’ve been greatly enjoying you blog and your books. I will read Heroes this summer and Red Country when it’s released. Cheers!
Dan from FL.
I loved BSC. I got to read it quite early which was just the bestest thing ever, so maybe I’m slightly biased.
The thing about the bleak/nasty for me came down to this. Shivers’ decent was just horrible 🙁 Then the kicker came at the end of the book. I’m not entirely sure how it went, but you feel there’s this chance Shivers and Monza will somehow work things out, and that Monza’s good fortune at the end could somehow rub off ever so slightly onto Shivers.
But then he gets beaten down even further!
Knowing how tFL had ended, I guess I expected it, but still. Made me feel like maybe you were afraid of writing a halfway decent ending, as it would destroy your gritty street-cred, yo.
Did this factor in on your decisions at all?
Any flaws, real or imagined, are rectified by the ending. Shenkt anyone?
I love your take on the cycle of vengeance and the massive fallout that occurs as Monza seeks her vengeance. Making the world multipolar instead of a struggle between Bayaz and Khalul (or their proxies) gives the world much more depth too.
Toss me a bone, will Shenkt appear in Red Country? :<)
This was the first book of yours I read, and it instantly became one of my all time favourites and I probably read it at least once every year.
I read it before The First Law, simply because, as you found it more challenging to write female characters as a woman I find it more challenging to read male characters.
This book convinced me to read, eventually, The Blade Itself-it took my a couple of years, as I didn’t want to be disappointed if it couldn’t live up to BSC but i loved it and will be soon buying the next two. Monza was convincing, she was utterly fabulous and she was likable. It’s true- face to face you probably wouldn’t like her but because we saw behind the mask we understood her. Not that she would want our understanding, well maybe a little, but not that she would ever admit it, unless of course you held a red hot poker to her eye. Loved her, loved it-completely.
Best Served Cold is my absolute favorite of your books. There really isn’t a weak point. All the characters are vivid and memorable. The settings are fleshed out and engrossing. The whole story is just an amazing page turner. Can’t say enough how much I love it.
I think you bring up a good point about Monza and the “man with tits” criticism. It really does feel fairly odd to in one breath complain about the lack of well developed, non-stereotypical female characters, let alone leads, in fiction (a valid complaint), but then complain when one doesn’t fit traditional ideas of femininity.
That has me wondering. Which of your female characters have you been most satisfied with?
Among my circle of friends, this is regarded as your best work, though for personal reason I can’t really say it’s better or worse than ‘ The Heroes ‘ which is very much equally enjoyable ( but for different reasons ). I get the sense you are trying to gauge in your own mind how ‘Red Country’ stands against the rest of your work. I think your style is my favourite because of the authorial tone, and you will never lose that. You have definitely honed aspects beyond the dialogue that maybe needed some attention. Your dialogue in your published work is the biggest draw. Your characters compelling for the main, and the interactions coupled with the violence has me calling you ‘ the Tarantino of fantasy fiction ‘ which I’ll stand by. No work is faultless, and it does good to review what you have done and where you stand, so long as you keep the faith in your current material and yourself. You are very observant and self aware, so I imagine the pressure of competing with the field and with your own past merits stacks up. Never let it get in the way though because even if Brandon Sanderson is more prolific and horribly inventive, your characters, dialogue and insidious wit will always mean I prefer your work. It’s all about taste. One reader I bought a copy for said ‘ I don’t like it ‘ and I asked ‘ Why?’ and they responded ‘ No dragons in it.’
I believe my response was ‘shoot me now’ but you get the point. I am very much looking forward to ‘Red Country’ and wish you all the best with it.
Thank you, Joe
Way, way too soon for me to judge how Red Country measures up. I’m only just getting sufficient distance to look at Best Served Cold anything like objectively, still too soon on The Heroes, really. Won’t be until I’ve absorbed a lot of reader reaction to Red Country that I’ll get any sense of where it stands. I hope it’ll be seen as a slightly different sort of book, with its own virtues and shortcomings, just like the others…
Best Served Cold is one of my favourite books of all time. That said, I’m a sucker for any accumulation of comically mismatched heroes double-crossing and betraying each other as the plot roller-coaster’s along.
And okay, yeah, Monza can be a bit of a bitch in places and the whole thing with her brother is kind of icky, but there’s that wonderful moment where Cosca says something like “Do you know why I’ve always loved you, Monza?” and tells her (and us) that she doesn’t believe any of that “mercy and cowardice are the same” stuff. Makes you think – how likeable would you be if you grew up in Styria in The Years of Blood with a pyschopathic younger brother and no parents? I mean, taking into account her socio-economic background, she’s a bloody SAINT…
Not quite done with my own read through of BSC yet. That said, I have to admit after reading The First Law trilogy, abandoning the story of Glokta, Jezel, Logan, and Bayaz, for some loosely related one off’s kind of didn’t thrill me going into BSC.
Now, having read the majoritiy of BSC, I can happily say there has been NO drop off in quality. I’m enjoying these events “to the East” just as much as our previously seen adventures in Adua, and in the North, South, and West, and all it does is expand the story that started in the trilogy.
Monza is not “likeable” but thats the point. A character does not have to be likeable to be compelling. I can understand why some might want this, but alas, you don’t read Joe Abercrombie to feel good, you read it because the story is engaging, thought provoking, and yes Logan, realistic.
The moment when Monza realizes she is revulsed by Shivers and realizes he is a worse person for having known her, and actually preferred him “trying to be a better man” despite her initial negative opinion on the matter given her own horrid values was powerfully intriguing stuff in examining these characters for what they are. Great job Joe! Now to finish the book…
Once again, Best Served Cold brought a silent tear to my eye during the Faithful Capri scene. This women who warred beside him, was damn near killed by him, and later plotted against him… had the mercy to try to drag him out of the water and give him a clean death on the river banks.
I sat there in the car, stunned at that scene.
One of my personal favorites. The scenes are vivid, the emotion is understandable, and the plot twist that Monza and Benna turned into treacherous people by the end of it, having gone from war torn children to brutal-hearted mercenaries, still stings the heart.
And there was no foreclosure to the whole “incest” thing. It was left ambiguous…right?
I thought Monza worked quite well, actually, and mad props to you for giving a kick-ass woman centre-stage. I said over on goodreads that she’s not the most sympathetic/ likeable character and that you make it “hard in places to stay on Monza’s side, just because everyone around her seems so much more likeable” – which totally worked for me.
I loved Best Served Cold. It’s hard and bloody and fast, and it contains Shenkt. SHENKT, man. Nuff said, really.
That reminds me, will we ever see him again? Pleeeease? 🙂
The Cardotti’s House of Leisure was my favourite part. Possibly because I read The Heroes before any of the other books (picked it up at the SFX weekender because you were witty in the ‘just a minute’ section and the cover was pretty, thought it was the best book I’d ever read and ordered the back catalogue immediately) and it’s such a defining moment for Gorst but when it came down to it, he was hardly involved. Made me pity him more, and also want to slap him around a bit. Re-reading the heroes after this book also made Shivers seems a lot more like a person, than a scary apparition and made his stepping up at the end a lot less surprising.
All in all, this is a great book, but reading it straight after the first law….I did miss Logen.
I’m certainly looking forward to it with that in mind. When I consider your work I tend to judge ‘ First Law ‘ as a single entity, and it instantly grabbed me. I loved the ‘voice’ of the narrative, I revelled in the earthiness of Ninefingers and and the cynical world weary and bitter mind of Glokta who is utterly despicable and pathetic on so many levels, but who I could not help but sympathise with and that, my friend, is an achievement. Making ugly and villainous characters, or the reprehensible, completely appealing. So to talk a little about ‘Before They Are Hanged’ I would say I found it brave. Proves even Bayaz is fallible and I kept thinking at some point Jezal is going to do something courageous. He never did. That was fantastic! In the culmination of events, I really gleaned some satisfaction in the unexpectedly poetic and thought provoking circular nature of the story arcs. It was a touch I pondered after and still do.
Best Served Cold is as you say, tighter. No doubt. I thought your descriptive work went up a notch, and I think you put in some real effort on that score. It seemed you wanted to be a touch more detailed for the purpose of reader immersion and it truly brought a lot to the story. I’m no fan of the late of Robert Jordan’s endless descriptive scenes in the Wheel of Time series nor indeed Tolkien’s attention to detail with eddying brooks and midge ridden marshes. What you did was embellish without making it a yawn, and it helped to portray the traits and history and nature of the cultures influencing each location. I found that Monza was very convincing. Had she been soft, or less masculine, she would not have been. So I get where you are coming from with that. She actually felt to me like a woman who had been so tempered, that she had no choice but to become what she became in order to survive and flourish in an uncompromising world. As a strong female character I enjoyed her as have those I have introduced the novel to.
Your points about the difficulties of a man writing women convincingly are very astute, and I’ve often reflected on them myself. In fact my thoughts regarding it echo yours, I don’t think there is any substitute for being a woman! But then the reverse is also true. Hardly any women can write men, and we are meant to be such simple creatures, right? I would say the Aes Sedai in Wheel of Time are well realised, but the repetitious idiosyncratic behaviourism is tedious and eventually annoying. Vin is a great character from Sanderson’s Mistborn series, but in that trilogy he does not back up the central character with many other females that are not simply secondary characters at best. Most are simply part of the scenery! Neil Gaiman tends to write very convincing women albeit using them in small doses. George R.R Martin you’ll have read and know all about. Cersei is a convincing woman, and so is Catelyn, so I suppose he sets the benchmark to an extent. I find it hard to name drop anyone I think does it sublimely well. It’s more a case of those who seem to write women better than others. As a man, I expect I may have limited ability to point you in the direction of strong examples. I have found that by reading a lot of the female fantasy fiction writers, I can write a better woman now. I would hope the focus remains fixed on story telling and the desire to test yourself regarding this doesn’t affect the frequency of women in your novels. I kind of like that in your setting men take the fore, because you are writing about a harsh and realistic setting. In a world where brute force crushes all before it, you would expect women to have less of a role to play. It might throw up it’s Boudica or it’s Cleopatra, but how do they fit into your intent as an author and should they?
The Heroes I read in two days. Then I immediately re-read it. It certainly has it’s own strengths and weaknesses but the weaknesses are simply what it is not. Everything you wrote is strong. It just may not be a book that all fantasy fans are going to enjoy. It’s obviously focussed on a battle over a fairless pointless hill. This I loved, because it was so reminiscent to me of the classic western ‘ The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’ when the Man with No Name and Tuco arrive at the bridge separating the north and south in the Civil War. The wounded Captain lying there overseeing the same scene repeating itself daily. Simply wanting that damn bridge condemned to hell! Nameless and Tuco duly oblige. As a child I was captivated with this and your novel vividly recreates that sense of the futility and depressing waste of life that comes with war. I found it to be unexpectedly philosophical in that it provoked thought beyond the scenes depicted and the events within it. You were subtle in making your points. You could have been so heavy handed, but it is really deft. Nothing gets in the way. You let the characters and what happens to them do the talking for you. It’s never a sermon. I think I will always admire and respect it on that level, while it serves up the usual witty dialogue and realistic characterisation. I think I am convincing myself it is my personal favourite of your books. All without reintroducing the Bloody Nine!
Surely you jest though! Shortcomings in an Abercrombie novel? You can’t hope it has those! Hope that it is soon to be regarded as a seminal classic in literature, not beholden to it’s genre, and heralded as a masterpiece in fantasy fiction. Or am I just not being realistic about these things?
great book, just one flaw for me: Shenkt, I can’t understand why u needed to introduce an overpowered character, he just ruined the end, actually the real flaw was the ending, I was expecting Monza to die with Duke Orso. But maybe it’s just me that I don’t like good ending..
I agree with some others about Shenkt. Would love to see him again.
I thought this character touch was a great introduction. He brought some power to Joe’s world. Outside of bayaz and his sidekick, the eaters and such, there hasn’t been another “power” character like that. Personally, I want to see more of him.
BSC is the first book of yours I read and it’s still my favourite (haven’t read The Heroes, yet). I like Monza (like my home town!) the way she is and when you say that sometimes there seem to be “only a certain range of behaviour within which a female character can be convincing”, I could’t agree more. Shivers is another character I’ve really enjoyed. Too bleak and nasty? Is such a thing even possible? Looking forward to read The Heroes and then Red Country when it’ll be out. Thanks for the great stories Joe!
It’s funny that you point out that, ratings wise, Best Served Cold is your least successful book, whereas The Heroes is your most successful books.
Funny to me, at least, because I enjoyed Best Served Cold more than I did The Heroes. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered one of the limited edition copies coming out later this year, even though I already own a first edition of it.
I always bristle whenever people argue that a character is unlikable as a point of criticism. Always having a nice, likable character is severely limiting in fiction, I feel. Especially with the dark, bloody good kind of fantasy that you write. With all the black humor and violent happenings, a purely likable character would almost seem… insincere.
I mean, Logen Ninefingers was likable, sure. But many characters despised him. And you know, those characters had perfectly justifiable reasons to hate him.
Regardless, you’re the best thing going in fantasy right now, I feel, and I’ll certainly read Red Country the second it is available for my eyes to devour.
Best Served Cold is a fantastic work! It was a piece of epic fantasy and therefore NOT too long at all. The main character isn’t supposed to be cuddly and likeable; she’s a leader of killers and, sorry Joe, kind of a heartless bitch (except for her brother). Shivers is as much a main character and a wonderful example of someone who falls for the “grass is greener” spiel we’ve all heard in our lives. BSC also brings into focus the fact that a certain wizard’s most potent strength is… his money! IMO, anyone who enjoyed the 1st 3 books should have NO trouble loving BSC! I can’t wait to buy and read Red Country. Thanks for the awesome writing Mr. Abercrombie!
I just finished it yesterday, as well. The problem was that I read “The Heroes” before it, so I spoiled most of the events of novel, including Shivers’ scars and the outcome of Monza’s quest. Still a great read, but probably the worst of the series, which means it’s the worst of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read.
Josh, everybody hates Logen Ninefingers because they don’t understand that the Bloody Nine is a completely different personality. Basically, most of the massive, extreme amounts of hatred directed towards one the most likeable characters (other than Collem West) in the series, is one huge misunderstanding.
And your opinion of people’s views on unlikeable characters is spot-on. The people who whine about it are ignorant, if not a little stupid. Just look at “The Great Gatsby”. Other than Carroway and Gatsby himself, everybody is an empty, fake bastard.
Well, naturally, they don’t know. But the fact of the matter is that even if when he turns into the Bloody Nine, he goes berserk and loses all ability to think rationally beyond killing what is in front of him, it is still him that is actually doing those things.
I don’t think the Union would give much consideration to an insanity plea, let alone the North 🙂
It’s just a funny thing to me because Monza has many of the exact same problems going on. Much of her reputation as a butcher is mostly built on myth and misunderstanding. Yet she is still despised in many of the same ways. Not just by characters she has wronged, but actual readers. I suspect much of that is steeped in expectations out of what makes a female character likable, though. Unfortunately.
I think it’s unfair, on some levels, that Logen is VASTLY more popular than she is. In fact, I’d probably say that she, Logen, Bayaz, and Glokta are the most interesting characters (to me) that Joe has written, and I welcome any chance that they might pop up in future books he writes.
Yeah, my favourite book! So people say it’s bleak and nasty, has an unlikeable main character and it’s long, do they? They just described the perfect book. Seriously, how can anyone not enjoy a good ol’ revenge story, especially one with such a fantastic cast of characters?
I would say that, having read this before TFL, I was kind of confused at the appearance of Shenkt half-way through – who is this guy with supernatural powers come to kill everyone? I think if I’d read the trilogy before I would know who he was and it wouldn’t be quite so unexpected.
Anyway, I basically picked this up at someone else’s house, read the blurb and couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it sounded. Not only did it live up to expectations, it also refreshed my love for fantasy and introduced me to a whole new world of kick-ass. Once again, thanks Joe!!!
Well, after that short video for Red Country, he might appear.
And to the author, I would love some conformation on that.
I kind of hated Monza not because she was a very grey, Machiavellian character willing to do awful things for her own petty pursuits, but she was she was an ungrateful, if slightly childish (excuse my language) bitch. Everything Shivers did for her and lost for her was pissed away. She even betrays whatever shred of friendship she ever had with him by fucking Rogont. Because of this, I’m rooting for Shivers now. He has become, in my opinion at least, the next Logen Ninefingers. Except he deserves all the fear and hate, particularly in “The Heroes” and the last half of “Best Served Cold”
I was very excited to read BSC after the previous three books but I found it to get somewhat boring in the middle and I stopped reading it for a few months. Later on I got the audio version and finished it up.
I think it is a good story overall. thinking about it, I actually like most of the characters, especially fleshing out Shivers and also Morveer. Cosca was a huge problem for me, though.
He was fine in the previous books but it seemed like he was on every other page of this story and he was just very tired and obvious. There was no mystery or anticipation about what he would say or do next. It was obvious even when it probably was not supposed to be. Obviously that is just my opinion.
I had not really thought about it much before but his character really brought down the whole of the story for me because I was interested in everyone else up until the last page.
It was still a great read and I’m not sad to own both the hardcover and audio.
It’s interesting to observe that some readers seem to have experience of others not really understanding what Joe has done with some of the characters and indeed descriptives in his writing, seeding in what are recognised psychological defects we now have medical terms for into a fantasy world that lacks such understanding and terms. Also of course seeding in technological advancements without using the modern terminology but describing them from the point of view of a society lacking in technical jargon we’d understand as readers. This allows the reader to piece it together and I’d have thought that not difficult. None of the people I have bought copies for have missed those aspects. I actually liked observing them and diagnosing them, but didn’t think I was being particularly clever in that. I did think it was a novel approach to creating traits, however.
The thing that makes Best Served Cold register a little lower on my Awesome Scale isn’t that Monza’s cold, ruthless, and madly revenge-driven, it’s that she so unnecessarily fucks Shivers. I mean… yeah the guy could have said “no” to you, and yeah he agreed to come on board for money to begin with, but you can’t see his loyalty to you BEYOND that of a few gold coins? You don’t feel a slight twinge of loyalty to this fighter who’s saved you and your quest several times? No? None of that? He bitches too much, you say?
Ehh, when she distances herself from him just to avoid her own guilt was when I felt she had crossed that line from vaguely unlikeable to vaguely repugnant. Shivers may have deserved a good sodomizing for the life he led, but not from her. And yes, not getting what we deserve is a theme to these books, but this one was rather like that one part in “The Social Network” when Saverin finds out his stocks have been dissolved and the only response that Zuckerberg has is to stare at him like “what did you expect from me?”
That’s not to say I don’t like the book as a whole. I just don’t re-read it nearly as often as I do the First Law.
Plus, the First Law has Steven Pacey doing the audiobook. *eargasm*
That completely blows my mind. Best Served Cold is by far my favorite of your books, even more so than Heroes, which is really saying something. I guess I think that Heroes is probably a more significant accomplishment in the genre – you really pushed a lot of things forward there, educated genre readers should be thinking about it for a while – but Best Served Cold is just astoundingly fun. Probably because of the Monte Cristo analogy and the general schemy skulduggery, which I always love.
I think with a book like best served cold, and its treatment on the revenge tale, it was always going to have a polarizing effect on people. I would agree Monza wasn’t easy to like, but you could identify with her. It
My small critique might be in allowing Monza to live. We passed on the opportunity to have Shivers be Horatio. By witnessing Monza’s death, and seeing the sum of her rage being rewarded in her death, Shivers might have been the true witness and hero who is changed, becoming a better man. But maybe that’s too hokey?…
The irony of Shivers never “becoming the better man” isn’t lost on me. And his appearance in the Heroes is pretty stellar. He earns the name shivers in that book.
One other small observation. Do you worry about the Magi and the Eaters of the dead having a kind of deus ex machina effect at the end of all your books. I thought about how the magi and the eater kind of rigged an ending to the first law book, (jezal being bayaz’s instrument the whole time) and the heroes (calder and bayaz). But maybe I am just over simplifying.
Best served cold stands as a pretty great book on its own and Cosca is favorite character of mine. The selection of the entertainers did indeed provide for some great levity in an otherwise dark book.
BSC is IMO not only your best book, it is one of my favourite fantasy books ever. It’s packed with action and dark humor, tighter and more focused than your First Law series, and a lot more complex and deep than it at first seems. Top 10 stuff. Apart from the characters and the story of the book itself, I really like how it expands and deepens your whole First Law setting too.
I love Monza’s character and the side characters are all great too. Especially Friendly, I got a thing for OCD serial killer types in fiction. I agree that Monza isn’t necessarily very likable, but she is real and relatable to me. Convincing as you say. She’s one of my favourite fantasy characters, and my favourite of yours.
So IMO you’re spot on with your assessment of that bit of criticism and the same goes for the “too bleak and nasty” bit. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised at how well, relatively, the book ended for her. Just bleak and nasty enough, indeed.
Too long? Nah, not at all. The book always appears quite short in my memory. Like a 100 000 word novel. That I read the book in less than 2 days is probably the cause of that. I’m always surprised to see how long it is in reality.
My memory’s pretty bad when it comes to books (I even forgot the name of one of the main characters in Bane of Souls a few weeks ago) but I remember having slightly mixed feelings about Best Served Cold.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the book but Monza did leave me a little cold. My strongest memory, apart from trying to remember what Shenkt’s role in First Law had been [I think he wasn’t in it, actually] was really enjoying the way that Shivers began almost as a tabula rasa actively seeking to become good. But then the world, and Monza, got to him, and he didn’t just become a bit mean, but impressively dark.
I also liked Morveer and his assistant (I liked her) and the world that the scenes took place in.
Incidentally, after Red Country will you still be working on stand-alone books or do you plan to return to a trilogy or try your hand at a series?
BSC is my favorite work of yours. I actually got into your work via “The Blade Itself.” I liked it, but I kind of forgot about you until I was desparate for a new book and saw BSC on paperback.
Blew my mind. So dark, so gritty, there were parts of it, especially early on, that made me a bit ill to read. AND I LOVED IT. Watching Shivers’ transformation is downright sobering, and once I went back and started your works in proper order, of course I got even more out of it. Though if I had to blurb it, I’d call it “Kill Bill Gets Medieval.” Got a 5 star review from me at Amazon US.
The way you weave in old characters without spilling it all is really impressive, by the way. I think that’s one of the elements that is most enjoyable about your work. The way old faces pop up, mix in with the new ones, and generally continue to inhabit the world without dominating it is very enjoyable.
I disagree with d rat shenkt was my favorite part at the end. Bows to nobody like my self
Best Served Cold, is your best book imo. Is it dark? Yes. Is it hard to get past some of the crappy things the charaters do to each other? Yes. Would I want to live in such a world? Hell no! Yet it is a great story.
As a female reader, I enjoyed Monza’s character and Best Served Cold tremendously.
To be honest, I’m bored of virgin ladies with sharp tongues, healers with unwavering sense of ethics, and milk-maids whose only role is to charm princes.
Give me blood, give me fights. Give me women who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty without apologizing and regretting it later. Wait… that’s what you are already doing.
Thank you for that!!!
“Plus you’re probably aware that your women characters are going to be exposed to a kind of scrutiny your male ones probably won’t be”.
yep. Also, scrutinised that way for a sexist reason. No one routinely does the same to women writing men, yet they have exactly the same problem. Only males must be punished for their crimes.
I like the fact that you put things in your books ( Writing about specific locations with thematic adjectives ) that are so subtle that even an observent reader just absorbs them rather than processes them, that is a sign of something not unalike good writing!.
BSC was actually my introduction to your writing, and needless to say I got hooked.
I love the gritty, dark and nasty feel, it’s something you see way to seldom in fantasy litterature.
Loved the characters, pretty much all of them (even if I mainly loved to hate some of them), but Friendly, Monza and Cosca are my favourites, in that order.
I’m about halfway through the First Law trilogy, and I’ve got Heroes waiting in my bookshelf so I’ve got some goodness waiting.
Thank you Mr Abercrombie!
Mr. Abercrombie, I’d just like to say that Best Served Cold is my favorite of your writings (so far – key words there, SO FAR, keep writing please).
The character arc that Monza takes is the most breathtaking one I’ve personally read. Maybe I need to read more books. But I think your first main female character is absolutely awesome. She starts out so black-and-white, and you get subtle hints here and there that she’s not as ruthlessly tough as she seems.
She gets addicted to drugs. She allows herself to (sort of) have a relationship. She demands that Morveer not kill innocents wholesale. What’s going on here? Why is the infamous Snake of Talins, who slaughtered sixty bazillion people in Ohio or whatever, suddenly afraid of a little collateral? By the end of your book, we all know why.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt about another character the way I feel about Monza. She starts out so alien and such of a typecast. By the end, she turns out to be deeper than most people you’ll know in your lifetime. You almost feel like it could happen to anybody.
And that’s why Best Served Cold is so damn awesome, sir.
BSC is definitely one of my favourite fantasy books, no, books period. Disagree with all those criticisms. And Cosca, Shivers and Monza were so awesome it hurt.
In my view, Shivers’s descent into evil is also kind of…well, in an incredibly twisted way, inspiring. It might be the line “now he was everyone else’s” but you see him in The Heroes compared to stepping off the boat in Styria, and you get this raw feeling that he is a man who is absolutely done getting shat on; it’s the reason why the action preceding “I’m no dog” is probably my favourite moment in the series. It’s the conclusion of Shivers’s story arc – going from someone who wanted to be better, trying and failing, to being someone out for themselves, and succeeding. It’s a very dark little note in Joe’s books, and I thought, at first, it meant the standard “Evil is Easy” bit.
But, when you think about it, Evil isn’t. Shivers is horrifically tortured and treated, both in BSC and by his brother, rejected by the woman who got him tortured, and comes out of it all with a grand total of minus one eye. Becoming evil is not easy – it is very, very hard. And still, I wouldn’t say Shivers is truly black. His torture of the Northerner prisoner in the Heroes is pretty black, death of a thousand cuts is a nasty way to go, but he has an exasperated look about it, like he’s fucking tired of it all. A bit like Black Dow. Shivers is Logen’s polar opposite. He’s a man who’s seen the world of ‘doing good’ and been forced into brutal pragmatism (“evil”), except he never goes back. Shivers won’t return to Styria to sweep Monza off her feet, declaring he’s a good man again. No, Shivers is a brutal, skilled, pragmatic man who has finally discovered where he belongs.
Atleast, that’s how I get to sleep at night. I don’t care who you are, Shivers is awesome. My favourite bit of The Heroes was….Corporal Tunny, tbh, but my second was the fact that Shivers had become everyone’s worst enemy – especially Dow’s, in the end.
Monza’s unlikeable?? I did find Monza to be grim and scowly, prone to spite etc, and if she turned up to my birthday picnic I would no doubt be anxious for her to leave as soon as possible, but these qualities so unlooked for in a real life picnic sharer are a-ok as part of a compelling and entertaining-to-read-about book character. Besides, her unendearing scowly nature in the first half of the book is balanced nicely by Shivers being very likeable, optimistic and hopeful, and by the time all Shivers’ optimism got rubbed off, I was more than interested enough in Monza to want to root for her. By the end, I loved her. And, even the readers who found Monza to be unbearably obnoxious or mean-spirited must have found themselves cheering for her a little when they found out that her backer is working against that dick Bayaz.
As for the “man with tits” criticism… I don’t see it. I bet those people thought Ferro wasn’t ladylike enough to be a proper female character either. (Pfft, one might just as ridiculously say Calder is a “lady without boobs” because he likes his nice shoes and thinks about his baby a lot and he prefers persuading to punching.) Monza struck me as very human, a dyed-in-the-wool soldier and a tenacious survivor rather than as particularly manly or womanly.
My favourite bit might have been the Ganmark boss fight. Also, Monza suddenly changing her mind about fighting Faithful Carpi and trying to get him out of the river. Also Shivers and that Northman doing their rendition of Bloody Nine vs. the Feared and all the guests going “don’t it look real! How’d they do that?”
The Calder as ‘lady without boobs’ is a really interesting one actually, as, you’re right, it’s not a criticism I’ve ever heard, whereas I see ‘man with tits’ come up a lot, not necessarily about Monza, but in criticism generally. Seems to imply for some people the range of behaviour found convincing in a male character is somehow way larger than in a female. That a man with ‘feminine’ characteristics is just one among the wondrous variety possible with men, whereas give a woman ‘masculine’ characteristics and it’s somehow lazy writing. Lame horseshit, say I.
As for the picnic, I think Monza would be a brilliant guest. She would bring a ruthlessly organised hamper, drugs, and in the crowded park even the most drunken neighbouring revellers would not dare to encroach on your picnic space for fear of having their throats cut.
This is my favorite book of yours (in terms of standalone pieces, anyway. As a trilogy, the First Law MIGHT edge it out).
After I finished Last Argument I thought “Is this Abercrombie guy possibly THAT good?” Best Served Cold answered “Yes. Now shut up and be glad you got on the bandwagon early in his career.”
The characters, how the story unfolds, the action, the humor, the way it clearly carries on the story of the world as a whole while being far-removed enough from the events of the trilogy to work as its own self-contained work.
All fucking spectacular.
For me it’s the most memorable of your books! It has a clear plot in a simple concept (vengeance)…Just thinking that it would have been so easy to fall in deja vu stereotypes and I see that it should have been very difficult to write this book, I suppose, being in danger to write something too obvious all the time! But it had good dialogues, good side-kick characters (Morveer was an exceptionally good idea!), good descriptions too. At the time it reminded me of the The Demon Princes series of Jack Vance, mixed with a d&d session mastered by Tarantino. That was a good book! Blessings!
IMO, if Monza had been a man, hardly anyone would have complained she was too unlikable…
As to the “man with tits” criticism, that says more about people’s preconceived notions about women than anything else.
Mr. Abercrombie, that’s a very interesting point.
I remember reading a slightly controversial psych theory (not specifically about genders in fiction, just genders generally) that women were reliable (more of them are ‘normal’ or average) whereas men are likelier to be extraordinary (both in the sense of being a genius or hero, and in the sense of being a vile criminal or being very stupid).
In fantasy, women can be difficult because if you use ye olde morality/culture then few of them could be warriors, or have much power elsewhere (although magic can provide an alternative). But that’s completely contrary to the modern view of things, and squaring the two can be tricky.
Mind you, there are always exceptions. Xerxes’ favourite ship captain in the Persian War was a woman, and Ulrich von Liechenstein was both a knight and a transvestite.
That too is a really interesting point to raise. You’re probably right, but then she’d probably be a lot less interesting a character as a man. Since thinking about this stuff more I tend to at least experiment with the idea of changing the gender of characters and see how that alters the dynamics. In a way it shouldn’t alter the dynamics, but it obviously does, completely. If you change Monza to a man and Benna to a woman it becomes rather a hackneyed relationship, in a way – the morally weak, scheming sister who can only work through manipulating her stronger, tougher, more respected brother. Try swapping everyone’s gender, it gets really weird. A ruthless, wronged man brutally murdering seven powerful, treacherous women. He would of course have to gather a multi-skilled selection of deadly female hirelings to carry out the task. The action would include our hero posing as a male prostitute in order to murder a pair of princesses, disguising himself as a female soldier in order to murder a lesbian general, and paying his bodyguard – an immigrant girl with a bloody past seeking a better life – for sex then abandoning her in favour of a more powerful and attractive woman. What are we to make of father-obsessed Queen of Poisoners Morveer and her unhealthy obsession with her handsome young assistant? Or torturer Vitari beating the shit out of Princess Ario’s lover for the sake of his children in one of the few scenes that involve only men? Or the scene when female Shivers, who came to Styria such a nice girl then had her eye burned out, smashes Princess Foscar’s brains out while male Monza looks on, helpless. Holy SHIT I need to write that book. It takes no fucking prisoners. Best Served Smoking.
I was reading your gender reversal take on ‘Best Served Cold’ and about half way through it was thinking ‘ damn that needs to be written ‘ so it’s heartening to this cold blooded knave that you are sharpening the scalpels on it and preparing for surgery. Fucking hilarious! I would love to see the critical reaction to that one!
‘ Abercrombie drags us firmly into the gutter!’ SFX
‘ WTF just happened???’ Publisher’s Weekly
Funny how male Monza, with his military genius, ruthlessness, propensity to violence, offhand brutality, sexual profligacy, sealed-off emotions, drug addiction, and tendency to exploit women and reduce emotional relationships with them to transactions, is a proper misogynist stereotype worthy of a corny 70s gangster flick, but he’s suddenly surrounded by all kinds of strange, vivid and powerful women.
Correct me if I’m wrong but “Best Served Cold” has the most dialogue parts from any of your trilogy books.
This characteristic gives it a more swift sense of events and it allows you to display your comic talent more clearly.
Look at it this way.
I bet if you ask any of your fans what do you remember mostly from the book,most will quote Cosca’s or Friendly’s words.
Maintain this aspect in Red Country and you’ve got a winner
I think if anything it validates Sara’s point. The reaction to that kind of novel would be some kind of brutal mauling and you’d probably find yourself castigated good and proper by the press in reviews. I recall one writer who harped on about the glorious days of fantasy when all the writers were going for the grandiose epic and sweeping saga. Yes, this was in response to one of your books. The critic lamented the direction that fantasy was taking and name dropped a line up of the usual suspects, with yourself at the helm of those who boycott such high ideals and essentially seem to be declaring there was something very, very wrong with you!
I would love to force feed him the new version of ‘Best Served Cold’ and see if he keels over.
I would dare to suggest such a novel might prove ‘controversial’ but highly entertaining. If there are critics who have trouble stomaching it now, it fair makes me rub my hands together with glee. Possibly I’m sadistic.
When I read the review which you may remember yourself despite my vague description of it, I thought what Golden Age of Fantasy is this fella chatting about? I would have to think he means the 80’s when you had Guy Gavriel Kay and Michael Scott Rohan boring us to death. I don’t know though! I sincerely do not. We’ve had pulp fantasy since at least the 30’s through Weird Tales, and it’s grown up as it should, and evolved into what we have today which is appealing to me. I think the genre is at this time in it’s most exciting incarnation. There is still a pool of dross to sift through but in yourself, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Peter B Brett, Steven Erikson, George R.R Martin, Scott Lynch and Brent Weeks all offering a rich and diverse palate of harder hitting, grittier, more realistic fantasy settings and novels, the future is bright!
Even in the 80’s you had the sadly departed David Gemmell breaking through, and if anything Legend and the Drenai novels that followed it were the first stepping stones toward what we are experiencing today from writers such as yourself. I’m actually not the biggest fan of Gemmell’s work overall. This is due to the formulaic nature of the novels he wrote where a few names changed here and there would certainly increase the feeling I had of reading the same novel several times over.
I like that you are clearly challenging yourself, seeking to improve, valuing feedback, wanting to tackle new ideas and concepts, and keen to identify your flaws and to know your strengths. I think it speaks highly of you that you are willing to not only rip into your own work but to do it on your blog where even potential new readers can see it.
Obviously your novels are set in a low magic setting ( or are they? ) as it appears at this time, with by turns less fantastical elements at play novel by novel. Personally I like it kept to a minimum, unless it’s something a little unusual that we’ve maybe not seen much or at all before. Wizard’s throwing out fireballs, becoming invisible, harnessing momentous powers that are completely unexplained and totally unbalancing make me cringe. Conversely I like it when a fantasy writer creates and adheres to universal laws, even if they are purely invented. That’s where Sanderson’s Mistborn series really sold me. His allomancy concept was unusual, original and defined. The latter being the truly unusual element.
Without sorcery or fantastical creatures and so on, then what we are left with is a kind of historical fiction set in a fantasy world. I have no problem with that either as a reader.
I think what you have written so far suggests your world is evolving and we will learn about as you do. If you have a sense of it’s history and the laws defining the magic, then you are very patient in unleashing it. Your novels are more about the characters and their story, and believe me that’s kind of refreshing! Anyone who has waded through Sword of Truth, Malazan, or the Wheel of Time series would probably feel that. In total those doorstops must have thousands of pages of exposition detailing culture, history, politics, and the nature of magic. As much as I have enjoyed them sometimes I feel like pulling my hair out and screaming ‘ GET THE FUCK ON WITH THE STORY.’
So when it comes to complex world building I don’t really care if you throw yourself into that more extensively or not, because I am reasonably sure I will enjoy what you come up with in addition to what we know, but it’s not essential. It’s not even important. Your world feels lived in, and battered, and it’s told from the point of view of characters who largely will be ignorant to minutiae and that changes if Bayaz ever starts one of those crazy monologues prevalent in other works from figures such as he, where he explains details to some dunce so that the reader can learn. That’s seriously tepid and forced when writer’s do that. I hate it.
You focus on events, and the characters that shape them, and their experiences. That is refreshing. There isn’t some cornucopia of expansive concepts and background details that read like some kind of cook book or historical record to plough through before we can get to the action and the moment. By avoiding this heavy handed and tired form of world building, you are doing us all a big favour. Can it be sustained for much longer before complexity sets in or arises that needs greater exposition? Are you wanting to make this creation more sophisticated and thus complicate future story arcs for yourself? Only you can really know that.
Oh and I reckon that should be Peter V Brett, but it was a near miss on the keyboard. He won’t mind…
I recently reread all five books myself.
The only problem I could remember going into this book is how it is overshadowed by the fantastically clever the writing in The Heroes. As far as problems go, its a good one to have.
That said, as I read Best Served Cold a little slower than before, I found myself glued to it. Randomly letting loose a single bark of loud laughter in waiting rooms and on busses. Its a damn good book.
I have to agree with Iangr, the humor sets these books apart from the standard fantasy. I’d like to read Cosca autobiography, no need to worry about inconsistencies, I doubt anything he remembers is precisely cannon.
I read the comments on female characters today and I’ve only ever read one book that I took issue with, and that was a male main written by a female. I guess its based on the gender of the reader.
But I am worried that if you get any better at writing the universe may implode.
I will be the first subscriber, sir. I want a copy of Best Served Smoking.
You could publish them together in the form of one of those Ace doubles!.
( Actually, have you just given yourself a valid criticism of the book now?. You took the easy route with all the genders?. Bwahahaha. By Toutatis, we need this book writ )
I just want to write that ‘Best Served Cold’ is my favourite of your books, Joe: it’s mean, blackly funny, surprising, nasty, compassionate, and morally complicated. Best of all, it has Monza, a sharply drawn female character behaving in ways women in Fantasy novels are not often allowed to.
I enjoyed BSC more the second time around, and I really enjoyed it the first time. (I am doing my own reread project of Joe’s work as well). I am doing this since I have a bad habit of not putting down compelling reads and missing things in my haste to get to the end. My bad, I know.
But what struck me was the way the world was being developed with out the long slog process that Naith succinctly defined above. By focusing on each character’s actions and decisions, we are being lead into this world where we are seeing lines and alliances being drawn and redrawn in a not so classic showdown between the evil and eviler… where there is no good choice for a specific side to cheer for, but rather, you find yourself identifying or sympathizing with the least deplorable character. (Or not, if that is your thing.) Sorry, I can’t see myself rooting for the Gurkish to win, but Bayaz turning into a powerful megalomaniac and ruling over the world for all time would be difficult for me as well.
Other thoughts: Shenkt & Vitari…wtf? Can’t wait to learn more about their relationship & Shenkt in general…seems kinda badassed and has a thing for V & B bank/Bayaz…should be fun going forward. Monza…seems like she would like to be neutral and be her own person at the end of the book, but has already sold out to the Gurkish and is most likely to be in the middle of this world enveloping row…can’t see her being to happy in this position. Shivers…seems like he is developing his own little bloody split personality (aka:Nine Fingers)…lets see where that goes. Oh, yeah…and when will we see Logan again…
Now on to the Heros…
This book will always hold a special place in my heart. I picked it up before my honeymoon and read it every night in a seaside hotel in Ucluelet, a small town on Vancouver Island.
I really felt like I cared a great deal more about the characters in this book than in the previous efforts and I mourned the loss of Shivers’ idealistic outlook and his decent into ruthless barbarism, but that is exactly why the book is so good. Every glimpse of characters from the First Law series left me with a squeal, and at the end of the book I was left in awe with the knowledge that all of this will culminate into a much larger conflict between nations.
Thanks, Joe, for writing these books. They are, by far, my favorites. I am currently listening to them on audiobook format and am loving it.
Nicomo Cosca saves this book for me. And also Morveer, though I have to admit the only face I could picture in my mind when reading about Morveer was Wallace Shawn, who played Vizinni in The Princess Bride.
Monza was little more than the engine for this story for me. No Monza = no story. With Monza serving as the engine, it gives each character ample opportunity to shine. So it’s the other characters who round out the story for me and you can’t get any better than the rogues gallery of antiheroes Monza surrounds herself with.
Because of BSC, if you ever wanted to do a book of Cosca short stories (misadventures), I’d probably go Apple-geek over it and camp out at a book store. In my opinion, that’s how perfectly you’d written him.
Best Served Cold is my favorite book of yours. There’s something about the heist movie feel of it that that I love, and I still think Morveer is one of your best secondary (tertiary?) characters.
I love me some epic fantasy trilogies, but I think your current approach of single, standalone novels that explore a small part of a larger world are more rewarding.
“I love me some epic fantasy trilogies, but I think your current approach of single, standalone novels that explore a small part of a larger world are more rewarding.”
I done grammared.
I just want you to know, good sir, that Best Served Cold, right now, has my top spot of best books ever
because it’s the best book ever
there you go
Well, Best Served Smoking sounds hilarious. 🙂
I for one am happy Monza is a woman, and not only because it adds a layer of interest what with the story world putting women in general in the same types of positions they used to have historically (and not so historically…). It’s a sad fact that in a lot of novels, the male characters are by and large much more interesting and developed than the females. I certainly tend to identify with them more. But then, I doubt male readers would identify much with, say, a male version of the Damsel in Distress, whose goal in life is to find a worthy wife he can “gift” his virginity to…
You might be right. That doesn’t soon as good as ‘Best Served Smoking’.
Soon? I think I meant sound. Clearly a sign I shouldn’t be writing today…
Since Joe is not covering my criticisms of the book in his review, I’ll post them here:
It’s book four of the First Law: BSC it’s such a great book that I’d like to recommend it to everyone. However, they need to have read the trilogy beforehand to fully embrace the novel. A new reader would be lost when by the end of the book it’s unveiled that two wizards from of the West have been playing chess with Styria all this time. Plus, it spoils things such as Jedzal becoming king and Glokta being the power behind the throne. There’s lazy people who won’t start reading a whole trilogy after my recommendation, but I could have convinced them to read this book.
Monza is too likeable: come on here! Monza is cruel, vengeful and salvage. Under his command her sellswords did hineous acts and she never condemned them. You try to make Monza more likeable by shifting all the blame on Benna, but the older sister is as guilty as him.
It’s too nice and pleasant. For such a band of sellswords, murderers and poisoners fighting a powerful Duke in the middle of a war, one would expect a much worse outcome. Monza, Friendly and Cosca have as much a happy end as they could expect.
It’s too short. Far too short. When I finished I needed more. I was excited when I read that bit of information about Styria in The Heroes, and I can’t wait for Cosca to explain us the current situation in Styria in ARC. If Cosca is in the Old Empire now, I wouldn’t bet for poor Monza being alive. 🙁
I’d be one of those people who rate BSC the lowest of your five books. It’s because every viewpoint was centered on Monza’s story line; for any character in the book, it felt like there was only one essential struggle—whether or not to align with Monza.
Just read the part where a certain Duke wants a “shower” with Monza.
C’mon Joe, you really went THERE?!
Just kidding, I gotta love all the craziness thats goes down in the books.
This was my favorite of all of your books, followed closely by The Heroes. I keep recommending your books to everyone I know. Can’t wait for your next one!
I LOVED this book.. (I couldn’t put it down….)
Yeah the characters are kind of bad guys…
(I was on their side from page 1 tho)
I come to your site often & I read your blog…. I dunno why you feel you have to say anyting the book’s detractors…
Honestly, I’m shocked that this is your least liked novel. When I first read it, I honestly thought it was one of, (if not the), best fantasy book I had ever read and easily one of the best novels I had ever read. In fact many of the common complaints I felt were good things and worked to the novel’s advantage. Guess that shows what I know. lol
Well, I think there’s a difference between ‘feeling you have to say something to your detractors’, and choosing to assess common criticisms and seeing if you agree with them at all, and if there are any lessons to be learned. To be fair I’ve done the former as well, but I think in this case we’re looking at the latter.
BSC… what to say?
Well, it shook me a bit when I first read it, not at all what I expected after ‘First Law’ (this despite your strong hints). Took me a while to dismiss my preconceived notions and look at it objectively as a standalone.
Once I was able to do that, then it slotted right into a classic British dramatic thread – the unrestrained, murderous, nobody-has-clean-hands vengence fest. Think Titus Andronicus and blood-soaked Jacobean revenge drama. It fits right in.
It may well be your best book so far IMHO, though ‘The Heroes’ runs it close.
BSC is vivid in the sense that you feel you are watching events rather than reading about them, it has a very cinematic feel. Perhaps this is to do with the more linear path of the book as opposed to the mutiple plot lines of First Law. Your Wikipedia entry notes Tarantino as an ‘influence’, I can kind of get that.
I also think it was a very ballsy thing to do. Rather than write First Law part 2, you give us intrigue, mystery, tension, and derring do (or derring don’t in the case of Cosca) all served up with a plot twist Agatha Christie would have been proud of. Almost like there has been a shift in the genre, something which happens again with the stark focus of The Heroes, to be followed by the apparent western overtones of A Red Country.
Yeah, BSC works because it isn’t “epic fantasy” by itself, although it definitely is a cog in a much larger tale.
Its a personal tale about a very small group in a different part of the world, but at the same time could almost work as “The First Law part 4” because it does move the overall plot along more than you’d think.
I’d say now that we’ve gotten an epic trilogy set in Adua (and lots of action in the north), a standalone all about Styria’s situation, and another standalone dealing largely with the north, its time for us to find out more about the South, and meet this Emporer and Prophet who we have heard so much about. BSC certainly set up Styria as part of this great faction that would presumably now oppose the Union.
However, I’m sure there is more to the Gurkish/Emperor/Prophet, than just being this invading slaver’s “horde” that they have been depicted as thus far.
The Union (Bayaz) while having essentially playing the protagonists thus far, we certainly know everything isn’t rosey with them. It will be interesting to see this “other side” the Union opposes.
Not sure what Joe has in store for us with Red Country, but I know it will be unique and highly entertaining as always.
I must say, Best Served Cold is often a reccomended title when friends ask for a good read. In fact, I’m nearly sure I am one of your best promoters in Arizona, USA! Monza and her personality was what kept me latched in from cover to cover, along with Shivers’ drastic mental breakdowns. Something I haven’t seen mentioned much is the fantastic view of Vitari’s soft side with her children. She was easily one of my favorite characters.
That said, I’m not sure why you feel you’ve a need to question your “women character writing skills,” but you have it down. Now I’m off to find my Best Served Cold copy and give it another go, while only complaining that it has a drastic void where Ferro could be! Keep up the good work!
I loved BSC! It was the first book I read by this Abercrombie guy, and made me a huge fan.
I picked up the book when I saw this reread was posted. I finished this yarn last night (tore through it in three nights) and my first thought was, “a refreshing dessert after the weighty First Law meal.”
It’s weird to me that is almost as long as Last Argument, it read fast and didn’t feel long (As I read it I wondered if maybe the font was bigger? and had larger line spacing?). There was a lot of ‘stoving’ and stabbing ‘to the hilt’ and faces being so close they could ______ that felt redundant, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. I laughed hysterically at the bone thief reveal in the end: lucky for Monza to have the Fist of the North Star as her Bayaz
My only complaint about Best Served Cold is Monza.
I just can’t force myself to like her, she’s too much Umma Thurman in Kill Bill…
There’s also that aura of inevitability that Monza’s gonna kick ass and beat everything into a bloody pulp, I never feared for her (or, since I didn’t really like her – thought that she’s fail), basically never doubted how the story would pan out- more or less.
To me, Logen, Jezal, Glokta, Shivers, Gorst, etc…
They all feel very “real”…
Monza just seems to much “Tarantino” IMO.
Being honest here, I still love the book, or I wouldn’t be posting here. 😀
Yeah, I’m a Joe Abercrombie fanatic, and I loved this book as much as all the others. I’m going to pre-order my copy of Red Country in the next couple of days, can’t wait to crack it open. So that means that I have to read the rest of the books I’m supposed to finished before then or they’ll get kicked to the side.
As far as Best Served Cold goes, I think Monza is likeable, well she was for me any way. She kind of ranks up there with San Dan Glokta in terms of her cynical attitude and behavior to everything, including those who want her affections, i.e. Caul Shivers and Cosca. I think the best part of all the books Joe has written is that his characters just feel like real humans. Even though its set in this fictional world, its hard not to relate to their stories in someway, even if they’re not likeable.
The one character I would love to see more was Shenkt. I loved the purity of his actions and the brutality of his violence. He ranks up there for me with Logen Ninefingers aka The Bloody Nine aka the one guy in the series of The First Law world that I think no one wants to believe is really dead. And we don’t care how many times Joe kills him in some miserable and might I say, inglorious way…we want him back for all times. So if he did really fall to his death this time, we’d, or maybe just I would like a few prequels of Mr. Ninefingers.
This book was my introduction to the work of Joe Abercrombie and I found it amazing. I also found it interesting because it didn’t really provide any spoilers due to the way it was written. I went back and read it again after reading the First Law Trilogy and I enjoyed it even more and was even more saddened by Shivers descent into darkness.
Friendly was fucking brilliant and Cosca was so well fleshed out that he appeared 2 dimensional in First Law. Morveer was also brilliant (especially his regime for developing immunity to poisons) and I never really saw Monza as unlikable at all, just someone who had been through a lot of pain and was coping the only way she knew how.
@ Entity – I thought I was the official Arizona Abercrombie pimp! I even have the license plate BLOODY9 to prove it! ;P
In my opinion this was definitely on a par with the First Law books.
It was a completely different style, in a different location, and most importantly it was restricted to a much shorter final word count (being a single novel). That made it obviously a very different kind of book. I thought the way you developed Styria as a place was good, you seemed to do a lot of research into the historical parallels with N Italy and Germany and yet still it was a very character driven book.
I think the best part of Shivers’ character wasn’t so much that he descended into nihilism but rather that you took a minor character from a previous set of books and filled him out. That’s always something great in a novelist because it provides a strong link. I also love how you give glimpses of how the world has moved on as a whole since the first trilogy without having to bore us for a hundred pages with filler like many novelists do.
My favourite part of your writing in general though is the huge part that luck and everything plays in it. Since it’s SPOILERS anyway, I have to say when that box was carried into Morveer’s hidey hole at the end and he poisoned the crown, I had to laugh. It just shows that all the planning and cunning in the world mean nothing in real life. Sometimes things just go completely out of control, and you just have to ride the wave. It’s much better than the almost compulsive neatness some writers seem to come down with.
Thanks again for a great novel, definitely made a name for yourself already and in my opinion you’re right up there with Steven Erikson & co at the top of the fantasy pile.
I devoured Best Served Cold. Monza is well loved in my house. I loved every bit of her revenge plot. I love all your characters ~ but she stands out as a favorite. As a bookseller I try to get you off the shelves and into readers hands all the time. I only wish I could toss off my professional face when describing the books by saying : “Aside from the awesome plots, locations and battles, the best thing about these books is everyone is fucked up, nobody has redeeming qualities and yet you cheer for them no matter whose side they’re on. You want them all to come out well in the end. But they won’t. So don’t get attached”. I for one would be thrilled to see another appearance of Snake of Talins.
I loved “Best Served Cold”. I really enjoyed the triology, but for me I actually liked book 4 and 5 even more. I’ve read a lot of different fantasy and Abercrombie is one of my great favorites – a long with the likes of Erikson, Martin, Lynch, Rothfuss, Bakker etc.
BSC is definitely one of my favorites. I was honestly bothered by the incessant bleakness in the ending of the First Law trilogy… it’s not that every ending needs to be a happy one, but I hate when it feels like a characters growth is ultimately negated, and that’s what seemed to happen with Jezal.
I don’t always need a character arc to be a happy one (lord knows, I’m here after all 🙂 but I do want the arc to be effective. If a character appears to grow and change, and then when tested at the end turns out to be no more than that what they were before, well… that’s realistic, perhaps, but hardly satisfying.
Thankfully, I got more of what I wanted from the character arcs in “Best Served Cold” and “The Heroes”. For better or worse, when those characters are changed by experiences and events, it feels like it meant something. Monza is a different person by the end of the story, and Shivers even more so. And that made for good, satisfying stories.
I literally just finished this for the first time and I thought it was damn good read. For me, the books seem to be getting better as Joe progresses. Hopefully this can continue, though in reality I keep thinking that there’s bound to be a letdown at some point.
I like that “Best Served Cold” is a standalone story. Frankly, I’ve become bored of all the “epic fantasy” (with a little ‘e’) that drags on forever and ever. I will also say that I greatly preferred Monza over Ferro in the previous books.
Currently re-reading “The Heroes”–of the five, this is my favorite. BSC was a fantastic, unrelenting shock to the system for me; a standalone fantasy story with a bad-ass female lead? A Northman named Shivers? You’re bleeding characters over from the original three Tomes of Awesomeness?? What?? Yess!
As an aside, I agree with Reignmaker. I’m pretty damn tired of the fantasy trilogies (I don’t count “The First Law” in with this little personal rant–they read like three stand-alone books to me . . . and I actually read them out of order the first time through . . . silly blonde, I know. I blame shoddy shipping from Amazon).
“In stores NOW!! The stunning 3rd book in the long-awaited Golden Assed Elf quadrilogy!” Blech. BSC, The Heroes. Good stuff. Not to say I won’t read the occasional trilogy or whatever, I just don’t have the attention span to deal with what boils down to a sword and board version of Beverly Hills 90210. With elves.
I absolutely loved “Best Served Cold” of all your books so far it was the one that sang most loudest for me (I hope that doesn’t mean I have repressed vendetterish feelings).
Heroes was a cracking good read as well but BSC had that dark vicious undercurrent that is missing from most fantasy. GRRM is pretty close with his lack of care in killing off all your favourite characters but atleast you do it with a bit of fun.
Keep up the good work and damn you for only coming to Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide in November. Whats bloody wrong with Melbourne? (grumps about having to buy a plane ticket)
I absolutely loved this book, but I introduced 4 of my friends to The First Law and none of them liked this as much as the first three! Universally, the complaint was that it didn’t advance the overall “plot” of the books, ie. the war between Bayaz and Khalul. I guess after the all-out thermonuclear inferno of Last Argument, the proxy-war between them in BSC seems tame, especially as Monza’s quest isn’t even revealed as part of that overarching struggle until right at the end.
For me, however, I think it’s a greater challenge to set up a world and try to play within its limits, going into deeper detail and filling in more gaps and backstory, than to shatter and transform it the way you did in the first trilogy. Also, the way the book is set up as a stereotypical vengeance tale and then the complexity of the relationship between Monza and her brother is revealed both to us and to her and undermines the whole reason for her quest for vengeance was a brilliant authorial coup. It’s like you said: nobody changes, but by the end of it the reader’s opinions of each character has changed completely! Well, one person kinda changes, as Shivers’s descent into lunacy gave me, erm, shivers when I was reading it. (I’m not sure if you intended us to think that he always had that evil bastard streak in him and it merely came out just now, or if he simply snapped when he was being tortured, but I took it as the latter.) Plus, in the final analysis, when you do get back to the “main plot”, the world will be so much richer and more complicated for the politics of Styria having been explored in this much detail and having Monzcarro as an active player in the war.
I’m not sure if you can win the people who didn’t like it over, or that you should even try. I agree with them that the book didn’t really advance the plot, I just don’t thinkthat’s a problem. I’m sure it’d make them happy if you went back to the main war as the central plotline of whatever you write next, but personally I wouldn’t mind if you went another book or two without tearing apart the whole fabric of the universe and reducing some major world capital to ruins again!
As always I’m way too late. Still I want to drop a line on this.
I’m a woman and I found Monza absolutly believable and true. She’s one of my favourite female characters at all. (While, I’m sorry, I really really dislike Finree.) Don’t trust those who say she is too masculine. They don’t have an idea of how woman are and how they have to be when they want to survive and work their way up in a male world. A girl would never have reached what Monza did. And still she has her weak sides.
The scene in which she and Shivers have that one big fight and she flees outside on the balcony where the wind deletes the flame and she throws away the lamp and screams out all her hate – truely. You cannot show a female mind better than in that scene. Simply perfect.
I’m really surprised to read that “Best Served Cold” fares weakly by comparison – I’ve not read “Heroes” yet, but I definitely think this book by itself was stronger and tighter than than anything proceeding in the First Law trilogy.
I only remember a single niggle, and that was a lack of sense of consistency about the city that has seemingly perpetual fog – which seemed to disappear after introduced.
However, the use of POV narrative that moved towards being in character, and the surprise of the overall story arc that Monza wasn’t anywhere near as evil as she had led herself to believe – the role of her brother in everything – was a genuine and welcome surprise.
Either way, I guess the bottom line is that you can’t please everyone – especially when epic fantasy is still served by a readership that seems to expect some degree of wish-fulfillment magic blasting in everything.
Anyway, I’ve just written a review up on Amazon.co.uk, so hopefully that will help raise your average. 🙂
BSC is one of the most blackly funny books I’ve ever read.
I don’t know how you make a compelling character out of a “thief, blackmailer, murderer of innocents, and keen practiser of incest, ” but you achieved it.
As my name might tell you, I’m a female fantasy-reader and, since this time last year, this has been my favourite book of all time.
After catching up on the first 3 seasons of “Game of Thrones” in August (very late to the party, I know), I found my love of fantasy rekindled but also a desire for three-dimensional female characters. I can’t remember where I found the recommendation now but I bought “Best Served Cold” and I absolutely love it.
I haven’t read the First Law books yet (I’ve just bought the first one; I’ve been worried that I won’t like them as much because of the male leads and the less politics), so maybe I had an advantage in that I wasn’t judging it against anything but my own tastes. BTW, on both Goodreads and Audible (which is where I bought it from), I’ve given it 5 stars.
I know this is exceedingly long already but I’d just like to pontificate on the subject of Monza and the other female characters. As I said above, when I found “Best Served Cold”, I was specifically looking for a fantasy book with a good female character, which seems to be ridiculously difficult. I love Monza; I loved her from the moment she’s riding up that hill with Benna, bickering exactly as I would with my best mate (who is male) or my brother. However, what really makes this book stand out (for me), is that it’s not just Monza. There’s Vitari, Carlot dan Eider, Ishri and Day, without mentioning the background cast like the Queen of the Union and Grand Duchess Sefeline. What caught my attention with these characters is they are all as fleshed out as you would expect, relative to their importance to the storyline, and they stand on the own merits, not just as adjuncts to a man.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no man-hater; Cosca is probably my second-favourite character in the book and I found Morveer hilarious. However, there is a terrible habit in fiction (especially fantasy) to define female characters by their relationships to men.
I would probably have loved this book even if it wasn’t so female-heavy as I love city-state politics and the way one individual’s actions can change the tide of a war. However, I would have been much less likely to take the chance on it if the hero had been a man trying to avenge his sister/lover.
So all in all, thank you so much for this book, even if it has given me unreasonable expectations for the rest of the genre.
I discovered Mr. Abercrombie when trying to find something to read while I wait for the next Bakker ( Prince of Nothing ) book to come out. Can you believe I found you on some random list of somebody’s favorite fantasy authors? Too funny, forget where they placed you, in the top 10 somewhere. I didn’t pick up the Martin stuff since the tv series is so good. That said, First Law + 3 would make for a monster episodic tv series. Not a pro or literary genius, but in my opinion, you’re writing is improving with each book ( just finished this one, BSC – so I still have 2 more to go ). It’s hard to make me laugh, and I find myself laughing out loud at some of this stuff. Morveer was my favorite character – amazed how you think this stuff up. The comedy of conversation was the best part, not the fighting ( never is for me – always loved the rich psychology expressed in Herbert and Bakker – and now yours too ). Not to repeat too much of my Amazon 5 stars I gave this thing, but I’m amazed with how you can create a read so complex as this, yet make it where I don’t get lost. That takes real talent with only 1 other author I’ve come across able to pull that off ( Dan Simmons ). Very clever stuff, my friend. You put a rare smile on my face! Can’t thank you enough, feels like I got the better end of the deal with the purchases.
One other thing – I didn’t take it Monza was actually in an insestrial relationship with Benna – thought that was smear, didn’t pick up on it with her personal recollections – appears I missed something.
I do not normally rate books after reading them. Lately, I have started rating books on GoodReads (only because I am now tracking what I read on that site).
I gave BSC four of five stars. Overall, your works rate a five or five for me. I love your characters and I did not have any problems with Monza.
You will always have individuals complaining about your work… how much does this really impact you as a writer? If you have a decent fan base and generally have more readers who enjoy your work vs. those who complain–shouldn’t you consider your writing a success?
Regardless, just wanted to comment that I truly enjoy your work.
Still my fav. audiobook & am holding out hope to get to know more about Nico & Friendly.