Friday, May 14, 2010

Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served ColdAs you might gather merely from the title, Best Served Cold is a tale about revenge. Monza Mercatto is a leader of The Thousand Swords, a mercenary company fighting for the Duke of Orso. She and her brother go to meet with the Duke, and are ambushed by the Duke and his cronies, her brother murdered outright, and she is strangled, beaten, stabbed and thrown from a cliff, assumed to be dead. Shades of Rasputin, anyone?

But Monza, nearly lifeless, is found by a surgeon and experimenter of sorts, who patches her back together. After she has healed up sufficiently to get around on her own, she runs away from his care, and finds her way to a remote farmhouse where she and her brother once stashed a great deal of gold they'd seized during one of their conquests. At this point, one begins to believe that this will be a tale similar to The Count of Monte Cristo, but unfortunately this tale is not nearly so morally uplifting.

Mercatto begins to gather a gang of allies to help her with her vengeance on the seven men who betrayed her and murdered her brother. The first is Caul Shivers, a Northman who came south to become a "good man". It doesn't take long for his association with her to take him far from that path. Together, they catch the first of her targets and beat him to death.

Next, she recruits a master poisoner, Morveer, to take out the next on the list, a banker. Morveer ends up poisoning not only the banker, but several dozen other people whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the right time. She also recruits a former convict called Friendly, her former mentor, Cosca, the mercenary captain of the Thousand Swords whom she replaced via her own betrayal, and female spy named Vitari.

Together, they attack the Duke's son, Ario, in a brothel, once again killing a crowd of innocents when they set the brothel on fire during the fight.

This tale continues to descend into brutality and the degradation of most of Monza's allies, as they accompany her in her single-minded quest for vengeance. In fact, the most decent character in the whole sordid story is the ex-convict, Friendly. This reminds me of the movie, Get Shorty, in which John Travolta's character, the loan shark, is arguably the most honest, ethical person in the film.

I finally gave up on this book about 100 pages from the end, as it was just far too depressing. Perhaps people who enjoy extremely dark fiction will like it, such as those who were able to finish all of the novels in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Read at your own risk.

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