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Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

01/03/2010. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Best Served Cold in the USA - or Buy Best Served Cold in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 644 page enlarged paperback. Price: 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08246-5 pub: Gollancz. 534 page hardback. Price: 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08245-8)

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Monza Murcatto is a warrior, powerful and beautiful who has it all. She and her brother serve the Grand Duke Orso who rules over Styria with an iron grip. They are at the peak of their power. Although from humble farming backgrounds, they rose to bloody prominence, stamping on those who stood in their way and wrested control of Orso's army of killers from its drunken leader.

All is not well in the kingdom and, in a few short minutes, Murcatto loses everything. Her brother is dead and she is thrown from the palace walls to her apparent death. Despite appearances, she survives and is nursed and stitched back to health by a mysterious stranger.

With all her pain and grief, Murcatto only has one thing in mind, revenge and to enact it, she will need a band of willing mercenaries. Loyalty might be a problem especially if they are anything like her. She gathers a team around her to exact her calculated revenge in a variety of creative ways. Nothing goes quite to plan though and she is forced to conclude it's a pyrrhic victory. It's a downward spiral as the group turns in on itself as well as the enemy.

'Best Served Cold' is set in a fictional world that has an epic sweep. It's not swords and sorcery but a book that sets out to examine what really happens when revenge becomes the sole reason for existing. There's no magic but there are mysterious characters that seem to possess extra-sensory skills.

I was resistant to this book and did take a while to get into it. One of the reasons is the character of Murcatto. She is deliberately painted black and her retribution is a series of bloody events. Squeamish as I am, this was the hardest part to take in even allowing for the ingenuity of the plot devices. It all serves a purpose though and there is a moral, unforgiving heart to this novel which is demonstrated by the violence. In the end, I enjoyed 'Best Served Cold'. It's a well-executed novel and although not my normal choice was a rewarding read. Congratulations to Joe Abercrombie for creating a great narrative and bringing a dissolute band of characters to life. I just hope I don't meet them down a dark alley anytime soon.

Sue Davies

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