Hey all, sorry for the posting hiatus. Things got crazy and something had to give. I have not forgotten about my blog and I’m hoping to return to my once a week schedule–including continuing my Education in Fantasy series.
In the meantime, here’s my review of Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie.
This book started so well. The opening line beautifully set the tone for a dark, violent fantasy. That was exactly what I was looking for. I had heard that Abercrombie was one of the best dark fantasy writers, so I was super excited to start this book.
Before I hit 200 pages, I was already getting bored. When I hit 600 pages, I stopped reading and started skipping ahead. I didn’t see anything that made me want to finish.
I just couldn’t get behind any of the characters. Now, this was dark fantasy. Going into it, I didn’t expect any of the characters to be likable. That’s not how this genre works. But characters still need to be engaging, and by and large, these weren’t.
It is generally said that three things make a character engaging, and a good character should have at least two out of the three: sympathy, proactivity, competence.
You might have expected that a woman who was betrayed and left for dead to inspire more sympathy, but Murcatto didn’t. That’s fine. As I said, I wasn’t expecting sympathetic characters in dark fantasy.
Proactive she is. Hunting down the men who betrayed her is the one thing she has going for her. The repetitiveness of “plan a murder, murder dude, plan a murder, murder dude,” is actually part of the reason I got bored so quickly, but it’s certainly not something you can fault Murcatto on.
So it all comes down to competence. This is where I’m really disappointed. We hear people saying great things about Murcatto as a military commander, but you don’t see it (at least, I didn’t see it in the first 600 pages). As a fighter, she’s outclassed seemingly more often than not, even after she recovers. As the book goes on, you see that more of her successes were due to her brother’s machinations, not even hers. It’s unclear, exactly, what she was supposed to be competent at.
In fact, the only character I really liked was Ganmark, because he was exceedingly and demonstratably competent. (It probably also helps that he is openly gay and gives zero fucks about people trying to use that to insult him.)
Most of the background and side characters were pretty flat. All of their motivations were purely mercenary, which is not only boring but also strikes me as implausible (or at least stupid on Murcatto’s part). I mean seriously, the Big Bad has been fighting a civil war for apparently years now, and she can’t bother to find a single person besides herself with a vendetta against him? Not one? There’s no one who won’t switch sides for better money?
Overall, would I recommend this book? Probably not. If you’re a fan of crude (not in a bad way, it totally works with the tone, but be aware of it), repetitive, and exceedingly violent fantasy, this will be right up your alley. If you’re anyone else, I’d suggest giving it a pass.
That said, your tastes are not mine. Maybe you’ll like it. It’s popular enough that obviously a lot of people do. If you’re curious, give it a shot.