Review of BEST SERVED COLD by Joe Abercrombie (see his website)
Orbit, July 2009
Murcatto is near death but rescued by a mysterious doctor who nurses her to a semblance of health. She vows revenge on the seven men who killed her brother and nearly killed her.
Murcatto gathers a small group of killers, a northman berserker, a poisoner, a torturer, and an obsessive-compulsive ex-con and murderer and sets about getting her revenge. Revenge, though, has its own rules and demands its own price. As Friendly, the ex-con counts off the murders, each member of Murcatto's party changes, questions themselves, and probes the darkness of their own soul and, in the case of Murcatto, the soul of her murdered brother.
Author Joe Abercrombie creates a fascinating world with a strong resemblance to renaissance Italy. The story's strength, though, comes from his creating a set of characters who all see themselves as justified in their actions. This is no battle of good against evil, it is far truer than that. Instead, characters battle themselves, seek what they think they need to survive, and allow misunderstandings to blow up into outright war.
At times, it's hard to find characters to sympathize with. Northman Shivers begins as sympathetic but is transformed by Murcatto's revenge into something dark and damaged. Murcatto herself should have recognized that her brother's plotting would lead to the kind of problems it did but blinded herself to him. Perhaps poisoner Morveer, with his strange inability to make himself understood and the number-obsessed Friendly are the most sympathetic characters in the story.
I found BEST SERVED COLD to be compelling and strong, but very dark. This is not feel-good fiction, but it's make-you-think fiction. Although I thought the faceoff between Murcatto and Orso to be a bit deus ex machina, I'll definitely be looking for more by Joe Abercrombie.
Too generous? Too stingy. Or did I miss the whole point? Send your comments to email@example.com. I'll publish the best letters I get so let me know if I can use your name.
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