About a year after Joe Abercrombie completed The First Law Trilogy, he followed it up with what has proved to be his best work yet. This is the Illusive One's Review of the standalone novel, Best Served Cold.
This book, unlike First Law, takes place in a land known as Styria, a large island northeast of the Union, full of Dukedoms ever at war with each other. After nineteen years of war, the Duke Orso of Talins has finally gained the upper hand against his rivals in the League of Eight and is now poised to make himself king of Styria. And it's all thanks to his greatest mercenary commander, Monza Murcatto whose victories have made her a bit too popular for the Duke's taste. Murcatto is betrayed, her brother killed and she thrown off a mountain but by some miracle survives leaving her with a burning desire for revenge against the seven men who killed her brother and tried to kill her.
Although it doesn’t fill in to many of the blanks left by Last Argument of the Kings, this is absolutely the greatest edition to the First Law World, (as far as I know the series has no official name). It seems to take place two to five years after the end of Kings, and reveals that Styria has become a land for proxy wars between the Union and the Gurkish Empire.
It had a great plot full of twists with a terrific cast of characters. While it does seem a little clichéd, it was executed so well that you don't see it that way at all. As a friend of mine once said, a clichéd device can still be made great if in the hands of a good author. Each of the men Monza attempts to kill requires a different approach to get to, a different set of skills to kill them and often frequently found herself within the ranks of her former enemies, trying to prevent Orso from solidifying his victory over the League of Eight. All of these things kept what would normally be a boring story fresh with each section
The characters in the book were also top notch and even surpass the ones from First Law. Monza is at first a cynical, abrasive, bitch with no thoughts other then revenge. As the story progresses however, we find that many of her sins of the past were in fact not her work but the work of her brother, either through negligence or treachery. As she slowly makes her way up the list, she finds the act of killing the men harder and harder and frequently questions if they truly deserve to die.
Then there's Caul Shivers the Barbarian. He was originally introduced in Before They are Hanged as a leader of one of the disgruntled clans with a vendetta against Logan Ninefingers. But in this book, like Logan, he is just trying to end his carrier in fighting and do some honest work for once in his life but finds that once your hands have been blooded, it's hard to get them clean again. His character happens to be the most dynamic of the book as he slowly changes from a halfway decent man, to a psychopath far worse then what he was before.
Other noteworthy characters include Friendly the mass murder, who has an obsession with numbers and is more than a little entertaining. There is also Nicomo Cosca, a former mercenary leader with a history with Monza and another character introduced in Before They are Hanged. At this point of his life he is a complete alcoholic who is one day away from dying in the gutter when Monza finds him and recruiters him in her vendetta. Another member of Monza's group is Shylo Vitari, another character introduced in First Law and helps Monza for the money she is promised. Another noteworthy character is Castor Morveer the treacherous poisoner with fickle loyalties and deadly intentions.
But my personal favorite out of all of these characters and probably my favorite fantasy character of all time is Shenkt the assassin. A man of few words, Shenkt is an assassin with unnatural powers who is the professional Orso sends to track down and kill Monza and her band of killers. While his page time is short, he made a bigger impression on me than any other character in any other fantasy book. He refuses to kneel to anyone and kills those who try to make him. He states that he used to kneel but does not anymore, often referring to an unnamed master who taught him his skills as the reason for this. At the same time, he gives his enemies one chance to walk away from a fight with him before tearing them to pieces and has a soft spot for orphaned children who remind him of his own tortured and mysterious past.
In conclusion, this was, so far, the best of Joe Abercrombie's books. Like his previous books it had a great plot, great characters, great fights, dark humor, great dialog and had great twists that kept your head spinning and I can't praise this book enough. Unfortunately you need to read the First Law Trilogy before you can read this one, but it's worth the wait, so read them and check this one out. You'll be glad you did.