Joe Abercrombie has already challenged the traditional tolkenien characters in his first three books. Logan Ninefingers, Jezal dan Luthar, Bayaz are all very gray characters, with complex motivations and desires. They are also an interesting twist on the classical personas of warrior, noble and wizard. Best served cold is in this respect a reinterpretation of another classical element of fantasy - the journey.
The central character is Monza, a former mercenary commander that was almost killed by her former employer, Orso, duke of Talins. She survives and begins a journey across the land of Styria in order to get revenge for her and her murdered brother Benna. Her companions and members of this "fellowship" are a collection of misfits: a northern warrior, looking for redemption, a poisoner and his assistant interested in being the best at killing, a drunkard mercenary trapped between love and revenge, a former convict with a pathological interest in numbers and a former member of the Inquisition with an unclear motive.
The story is build around characters that have complex motivations and back-stories.Monza's brother Benna is both her little brother (which both humanizes Monza and acts as a motivator for her revenge) but also a vain, reckless, power-hungry mercenary, who pushes Monza down a path where she becomes both famous and notorious. More than once, different characters turn Monza's motivation on its head and ask if the attempt on her life and the killing of her brother were not in reality justified. This ambivalence is pervasive throughout the story. In one interesting scene, Monza spares the life of some peasants only to be betrayed and sold by the same peasants to the local authorities who brutally torture her and her companion.
The journey itself is comprised of seven steps, where one of the characters that took part in the killing of Benna finds death at the hand of Monza or her companions. The path of revenge takes them across different cities of Styria - a mythical land similar to Renaissance Italy engulfed in a brutal war. At each step, the loyalties of the member of the group get reshuffled, new enemies and alliances appear and the reader learns more details of the backstory and motivation of the main characters. One constant element is that nothing is what it seems to be.
The fourth book of the series is also the continuation of the story of some of the secondary characters in the trilogy. Nicomo Cosca, Shylo Vitari, Shivers take a central role as members of the "fellowship". The war between Khalul and Bayaz for influence in Styria continue behind the scenes and this struggle adds another layer of complexity to an already complex story.
All in all, the book is excellent. The writing is highly entertaining and the atmosphere is dark and grim, with little space left for hope.