Best Served Cold is a stand-alone novel that takes place in the same world as Abercrombie‘s The First Law trilogy, though all the action takes place in Styria, which was previously only remarked upon and not yet explored in favour of the Union, Dagoska and the North.
When mercenary Monza Murcatto is suddenly attacked and ‘disposed’ of by her erstwhile employer Duke Orso for fear of her popularity amongst the people of Talins, she ends up thrown down a mountain, her fall cushioned by the corpse of her beloved brother. But Duke Orso and his accomplices make a fatal mistake: they left her alive, thinking she would bleed to death. Monza doesn’t. Her body is broken, her prowess with a sword no longer something she can boast about and she’s in constant pain. But it doesn’t matter to her: all she cares about is taking revenge. For her revenge to succeed, seven men need to die.
This is a revenge story, and make no mistake, vengeance is best served cold. The problem I had with this story though, is that revenge on its own can be a goal, can be the goal of the story, but Monza’s revenge spirals out of control. Add that to the fact that Monza is a new character and it’s only a few pages before she gets stabbed and thrown down a mountain, so I didn’t really know the person she was before she decided that “VENGEANCE WILL BE MINE!”
You get a few hints here and there about what her life was like before and what kind of relationship she had with her brother Benna, which kept one vital thing vague enough for me to keep on guessing about the nature of their relationship, and what kind of man Benna was. But Monza’s revenge unfortunately doesn’t just affect the seven men who have to die (I agreed on those seven men, they had to pay); it also affects the people of Styria, the League of Eight and the people she surrounds herself with to complete the task.
The first to come to her aid (if you can call being paid by someone to help her accomplish her goal ‘coming to someone’s aid’) is Friendly: a former convict who likes numbers and doesn’t really talk much. He’s not really that friendly, proficient with a cleaver and also a good cook. The second is Shivers (a name people who’ve read the First Law trilogy will recognize) a Northman looking to change his life and his luck by moving away from the Northern wars and dipping his toes in the waters of Styria. Unfortunately for him, Styria is going through the Years of Blood and Shivers’ struggle to be a better man, a good man, is interesting to see.
The second and third one are Master Poisoner Morveer and his apprentice Day, an innocent looking woman with a tendency to eat a lot and giggle. Then comes another that may sound familiar: Vitari. The same Vitari who used to work for Glokta the cripple, master torturer. And who can forget the great mercenary Nicomo Cosca, whom we also met in the First Law trilogy, and who shares a past with Monza.
This merry little group starts chafing and breaking up pretty fast, but all Monza’s concerned about is her revenge, even when by all rights she should worry about what her actions are doing to specific members of this group. Shivers especially gets the short end of the stick.
All in all, in the end only two of the entire group (well, maybe three) have some redeeming qualities to them. Only them I wish well on their next projects or journeys. Monza isn’t one of them. Still, this book kept me wondering and suspecting till the very end and it shows exactly why revenge shouldn’t be one’s one and only goal. And that revenge has a habit of destroying more than just your enemies.
Best Served Cold is gritty, brutal, violent and left me emotionally drained. I needed to get out into the sunlight and breathe in some positivity. I didn’t connect with the characters as deeply as with the characters of the First Law trilogy, but then, perhaps we’re not meant to.