Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Best Served Cold Best Served Cold
by Joe Abercrombie

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Kelly Buchanan

Two things are best served cold: gazpacho soup, and revenge. Joe Abercrombie's latest is all about the latter, and vengeance isn't pretty. This is no stereotypical fantasy quest to save the world; the characters and their motivations are all genuinely grey, and tending towards the darker shades at that. Though they're not nice people, they are believable and compelling, and I cared what happens to them despite not being able to condone their actions.

The novel is really more of a "secondary world historical" than a fantasy. The place names may be unfamiliar, but if you're after dragons, elves, and sorcery, look elsewhere. The few supernatural elements feel somewhat out of place, playing only a minor role in the story and I suspect serving primarily to link the book to the preceding The First Law trilogy. But for the most part, Best Served Cold does live up to its billing as a standalone novel, and my lack of familiarity with the trilogy seldom got in the way of appreciating the story.

It does suffer a bit from travelogue-itis, with the plot reason for visiting various cities in turn coming off as an excuse for the author to show off his world. But that's a minor niggle, and doesn't harm the story which moves along at a good pace. The prose is vividly descriptive, and laced with black humour that prevents the book from getting too depressing.

I wasn't entirely satisfied with the conclusion; one major plot twist deserved a bit more of a reaction, and elements come in to play that do seem to rely on knowledge of the previous trilogy to fully appreciate. But it's by no means a bad ending, and does effectively resolve this book's story. If you're not willing to commit to a trilogy, then Best Served Cold is a good introduction to Abercrombie, but otherwise starting with The Blade Itself probably makes more sense.

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