First Law Along #4: Best Served Cold

The next phase of the FirstLawAlong has commenced!
After finishing the finale of the first trilogy in June, we are now continuing on with a series of standalone stories in the same world.

Joe Abercrombie – Best Served Cold (First Law World #4) ★★★★

Genre: Dark Fantasy

Springtime in Styria. And that means war. Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employer’s taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started…

Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

“She set her mind to a thing, and did whatever it took. Shit on conscience and consequences both. Vengeance first, questions later.”

As with The First Law Trilogy, this book didn’t sound like something I would enjoy.
Labeled as violent, dark and bloody, this revenge story just seemed too grim for my taste. Without this read-along I probably would never have picked it up, which would have been a shame, because I actually quite liked it. Not a new favourite, but despite the gruesomeness still quite fun!

“I never saw men act with such ignorance, violence and self-serving malice as when energised by a just cause.”

This revenge story is full of unsympathetic anti-heroes. They are all morally gray and have little in their personalities to commend them. Even though this is a standalone book, every character is fully fleshed out and feels wholly real. Each gets their own backstory, their own unique voice and personality.
With this, I would like to once again praise the audiobook narrator, Steven Pacey, who takes Abercrombie’s writing to an even higher level with his acting and great sense of timing.

“One cannot grow without pain. One cannot improve without it. Suffering drives us to achieve great things.”

The story itself is pretty straight forward.
You know almost from the start how things are going to go. Seven men, seven murders to get revenge. And as each murder is being planned, the characters’ backgrounds are filled in, alliances are made, betrayals are provoked, and each becomes entangled in a fateful web of their own making.

“ ‘Things aren’t what they used to be’ is the rallying cry of small minds. When men say things used to be better, they invariably mean they were better for them, because they were young, and had all their hopes intact. The world is bound to look a darker place as you slide into the grave.”

But thanks to the catchy, lively and compelling writing style, the story remains fascinating. The balance between the grim atmosphere and humor is perfect. The tension was built up very gradually and menacingly, partly thanks to the clever use of repetitions and catchphrases.

“Unhappy times are the best for levity. You don’t light candles in the middle of the day, do you?”

Despite the lack of characters to root for, the lack of a satisfying ending, and the overall bleakness of the story, this was a really enjoyable, funny, and extremely well-written book.

“The memories of our glories fade, and rot away into half-arsed anecdotes, thin and unconvincing as some other bastard’s lies. The failures, the disappointments, the regrets, they stay raw as the moments they happened.”

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