Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie

Today I'm looking at another book in the universe of Joe Abercrombie, set sometime after the events of the first three books, ending with Last Argument of Kings. This book is set in Styria, an island located to the east of the Union which has been plagued for nearly twenty years by relentless war. Grand Duke Orso, allied by the marriage of his daughter with King Giselle of the Union, has been attempting to crown himself king of all Styria. He has been opposed by the League of Eight, but decades of campaigning have left Orso poised on the brink of achieving his goal. And this is largely because of the mercenary band known as the Thousand Sons led by Monza Murcatto.

Personally, Murcatto is hoping that this year will be the last fighting for Orso and she and her brother can finally retire. This all goes out the window very literally when Orso and six other men betray Murcatto and her brother and throw them from Orso's mountaintop castle out a window. Miraculously Murcatto survives, despite her body being desperately broken, and as you can imagine from the title she swears revenge on her attempted assassins. But killing seven of the most influential men in Styria will be no easy task, and Murcatto will have to put a team together including the northman Caul Shivers, former Inquisition practical Shylo Vitari, a numerical savant known only as Friendly, and a handful of other cutthroats, scoundrels, and criminal scum to accomplish the task.

This book feels a lot like the other books in Abercrombie's series, although in this case I was less invested in the characters than I was in the earlier books. With this being a revenge/assassination plot I was hoping that there would be a little more variation, figuring out how to get at people who are probably in highly secured locations. And there's some element of that with the effort to get to a banker which includes a break-in into a bank to put poison exactly where the banker will encounter it. But most of the rest of the time the characters are just going in and killing people in the messiest way possible. As a result it doesn't feel like a variation on the previous books, instead it feels like more of the same and it starts to get old after a while.

As you can probably see on the cover, there's a quote from George R.R. Martin ''This is his best book yet.'' and I feel like it's because Abercrombie and Martin have similar approaches to their writing. Martin and Abercrombie seem to favor gratuitous sex and violence in their books. On the one hand I can understand upping the amount of sex and violence in fantasy. There's always been violence in fantasy from Lewis and Tolkien to going as far back as Beowulf and beyond, but not quite on the brutal levels that Martin and Abercrombie take it to. Sex hasn't really been as much a part of mainstream fantasy and I can understand the desire to incorporate it into more modern fantasy works.

Now I'm not saying that sex and violence shouldn't be in fantasy works, there's every reason to have fantasy as a genre handle complex topics. But what I'm concerned with is that Martin and Abercrombie don't really do it in a reasonable way. I feel like they're putting the sex and violence into their works for the shock value rather than to really contribute to the story. Obviously there's a way to include sex in fantasy in a way that's meaningful, but including it solely for shock value probably isn't the best way to go about this.

Overall this book is okay at best. I feel like people seem to be excited over it because of the sex and violence factor rather than the plot and characters which seem underdeveloped in comparison. I'm probably going to avoid Abercrombie's stuff in the future just because there doesn't seem to be that appeals to me personally.

- Kalpar

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