Let me start this review of Best Served Cold, the first standalone in Joe Abercrombie’s First Law world, by talking about genre.
Namely, comedic fantasy.
Not a genre we talk about often. Not exactly major, kind of know it when you see it. But while re-reading Best Served Cold, a definition for it popped into my head.
Comedic fantasy is any fantasy where not appreciating the author’s sense of humour will significantly affect your enjoyment of the book.
Best Served Cold is the tale of Monza Murcatto, a mercenary with a huge reputation for all sorts of reasons, and her quest to kill the seven men who were there when they betrayed her, killed her brother, and very nearly killed her too. Not an inherently funny concept, but if you don’t know Joe you’ll quickly learn Abercrombie is all about putting the laugh into slaughter.
The thing I find is the less Abercrombie forces the humour, the funnier he is.
That might be the slump pickiness talking. Given how it fits with previous readings of his books, and previous musings on other comedic fantasy authors, I doubt it. The repetition of phrases, the constant search for the most creative way to say “this is shit”, it wears on me after a while.
Which isn’t to say Abercrombie can’t really tickle my funny bone. Some of Shivers’ lines really hit for me even if some are “yes yes we get it”. Vitari gives a great cameo as the straight woman to everyone else’s chaos.
Then there’s Cosca, the ever flamboyent purveyor of flimflam and mercenary, who frequently carries the scene and steals the show. Nothing about his airy cynicism feels forced, it just feels all Cosca. The only time that doesn’t feel true is when he’s interacting with the mercenaries of the Thousand Swords, who rightly belong in the ham section at the supermarket.
And Abercrombie’s humour lies thick enough across the book that this affects my enjoyment.
It’s a shame because a great deal about this book is rather good. It’s set piece action scenes are outstanding, its characters intriguing if uniformly grim. I don’t find the plot as affecting on the second go through, but that feels like a humour problem. Possibly also a tone problem. My willingness to bathe in the nihilism has gone down a good deal since I first read this.
But there we go. Abercrombie wants to tell this like a Tarantino flick, all hyperbole and style, and I’d have preferred it as Michael Mann or Leone. I also think to get full potential out of it for a Tarantino style piece he needed more out of Monza’s foes outside the party as well as in.
Great book. But this being comedic fantasy and all, the not quite keep on with the comedy means it only came out good for me.