Review: Best Served Cold (The First Law Standalone)

Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie

It’s been a while since a book took me quite this long to read (19 days!), but it really wasn’t the book’s fault. I’ve had a busy work schedule due to a current project, working through weekends and working up to 17 hours per day, so there just hasn’t been much time or energy left over for reading.


I enjoyed this book, but not to the same extent that I enjoyed the First Law trilogy. Unlike the trilogy, I thought it had periods of slowness. Those moments passed and then I would get hooked on the story again, but my engagement in the story just wasn’t as high as it was with the trilogy. Best Served Cold is a standalone book set in the same world as the trilogy. It does tell a complete story and doesn’t depend on knowledge from the trilogy, although I think it would be better to read the trilogy first. This book didn’t feature any of the major characters from the trilogy. Well, there was a brief cameo by one, and the others were briefly mentioned, but nothing of much significance. Two of the secondary characters from the trilogy, however, were point-of-view characters in this book. The story was set in a region of the known world that we hadn’t visited in the trilogy -- Styria. With only the tiniest of exceptions, none of the plot threads from the trilogy are addressed or continued in any way.


For the benefit of anybody who read the original trilogy and wants to be surprised by which familiar characters show up in this book, I’ll refer to the two point-of-view characters from the original trilogy as Character X and Character Y in my review. The below spoiler identifies who those two people are for the people who are curious or who have already read the book.


Character X is Shivers, a Northman first introduced in the final book of the trilogy. Character Y is Cosca, the unreliable mercenary that Glokta first hires in the second book of the trilogy.

(show spoiler)



The title of this book makes it pretty obvious that the main theme in this story will be revenge. The story revolves around Monza, a new character. In the first chapter she is badly wronged and she swears revenge on the seven people who were involved in the event, even if some of those people were only involved by being observers. Most of the story focuses on her pursuit of that revenge as she goes after one person at a time. The story itself wasn’t really repetitive because there was always something new going on, but I think the theme of revenge itself just started to feel monotonous. I also didn’t like the way revenge was pursued no matter what the cost. I was interested in what would happen, but I wasn’t really invested in Monza’s success or failure. I had more of a “sit back and see what happens” attitude while reading the book than an “I’ve got to keep reading to make sure the result is what I’m hoping for” attitude.


For the most part, the characters didn’t have motives or outlooks that I could appreciate so I never got very attached to the characters. Character X started off seeming like a pretty good guy with decent motives, but I never warmed up to him because he made questionable decisions for questionable reasons and really caused a lot of his own problems. By the end of the story, I didn’t like him at all. Character Y, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed him a lot in this book and wished we saw more of him. I think he was the only character I really felt invested in, although Monza also grew on me as the story progressed. I think Monza also made a lot of bad choices, but I started to care more about what happened to her by the end. One of the other point-of-view characters introduced in this story, Friendly, was also interesting and somewhat likeable, but we didn’t spend much time in his head and I never became very invested in him.


Over all I did enjoy the story, and I plan to read the next stand-alone set in the world, but I didn’t think it was as good as the original trilogy. I would probably give this book 3.75 stars if I could do that, so I’m rounding up to 4 stars.