Best Served Cold is Joe Abercrombie's fourth novel. It was first published in June 2009 by Gollancz in the UK, with an American edition following from Orbit Books. It is the first stand-alone novel set in the First Law world.
Springtime in Styria. And that means war. Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.
There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.
War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso's employ, it's a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular - a shade too popular for her employer's taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto's reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.
Her allies include Styria's least reliable drunkard, Styria's most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that's all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started...
Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.
The seven men who must die
Plot Summary EditBest Served Cold takes place in Styria, a land of warring city-states based rather on Renaissance Italy, and is a tale of betrayal and revenge, plain and simple.
Monzcarro "Monza" Murcatto is the notorious leader of The Thousand Swords mercenary company. She has brought victory after victory to Grand Duke Orso of Talins, and become wealthy and popular as a result. Perhaps too popular. Unfortunately for Monza, he has her and her beloved brother Benna thrown down a mountain. Unfortunately for Orso, she survives.
Now the Snake of Talins wants vengeance against the seven men responsible; Orso's bodyguard Gobba, his banker Mauthis, the general of his armies Ganmark, her treacherous second-in-command Faithful Carpi, his sons Prince Ario and Count Foscar, and finally Orso himself.
However she can’t do it alone, so she enlists the help of an oddball carnival of psychopaths to aid her in her quest. This includes a Northman looking to make a fresh start called Caul Shivers, a number-obsessed ex-convict Friendly, a self-important blowhard of a poisoner Castor Morveer and his constantly-eating apprentice Day, a former Practical Shylo Vitari, and last, but by no means the least, the drunkard and lovable scoundrel Nicomo Cosca.
Across Styria, they systematically work their way through Monza’s list. On the way, they not only kill their targets, but poison an entire bank full of people in Westport, burn a bordello to the ground in Sipani, and play no small role in the fate of Styria as a whole. Before Monza finally kills Duke Orso himself, he reveals that his fears were well-founded, and Benna was planning to overthrow him without Monza's knowledge.
Meanwhile, various subplots interweaver Monza’s bloody-minded violent revenge. Bayaz and Khalul continue their machinations on the grand chessboard in Styria. Caul Shivers’ moral transformation from a likable optimist to a cold-blooded killer. Through Monza’s flashbacks we learn that her reputation as a butcher of the innocent, may not be as simple as all that. And a mysterious assassin called Shenkt who has his own plans for Monza, and his own desire for revenge … against Bayaz.
In the end, Monza is Grand Duchess of Talins just as Benna had planned, one of the only stable states in Styria. She has fulfilled Shenkt’s plan all along, a strong leader in Styria, supported by neither Bayaz nor Khalul.
- “You were a hero round these parts. That's what they call you when you kill so many people the word murderer falls short.” Sajaam to Monza Murcatto
- “You should laugh every moment you live, for you'll find it decidedly difficult afterwards.” Nicomo Cosca
- “My name is Nicomo Cosca, famed solider of fortune, and I am here for dinner.” Nicomo Cosca
- “He was less and less sure with every day that being a better man was worth all the effort.” Caul Shivers
- “When God means to punish a man He sends him stupid friends and clever enemies.” Kantic Scriptures
- “When men say things used to be better, they invariably mean they were better for them, because they were young, and had all their hopes intact. The world is bound to look a darker place as you slide into the grave.” Caul Shivers
- “A man can forgive all manner of faults in beautiful women that in ugly men he find entirely beyond sufferance.” Nicomo Cosca
- “That’s optimists. You bastards never learn.” Monza Murcatto
- “Sometimes men change for the better. Sometimes men change for the worse. And often, very often, given time and opportunity . . . they change back.” Nicomo Cosca
- “I'm no drunk. I simply like the taste of wine.” Nicomo Cosca
- "Do you know why I always loved you, Monza? Even after you betrayed me? More, after you betrayed me? Because I know you don't really believe any of that rubbish. Those are the lies you tell yourself so you can live with what you've done. What you've had to do." Nicomo Cosca
- The title of the book comes from the proverbial saying "Revenge is a dish best served cold". The quote is attibuted to Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, 1782. However, this is a widely held myth. The phrase doesn't appear in the novel, or any other work by de Laclos. Historians are not sure where the saying originated. One of the earliest uses of the text is the 1845 French novel Mathilde by Joseph Marie Eugène Sue, where it was implies that the phrase was already in common use when the novel was written. Of course, how long ago it came into being in the Klingon Empire would be an interesting.