Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Best Served Cold

Go To
Cover of the UK edition.

"Mercy and cowardice are the same."
Monzcarro Murcatto

Best Served Cold is a 2009 Low Fantasy novel by Joe Abercrombie, part of his The First Law series. It's set a few years after events of the main trilogy, and a fair number of characters in it were supporting characters in the trilogy.

As might be imagined, this is a tale of revenge.

In Styria, a land of warring city-states based rather obviously on Renaissance Italy, mercenary captain Monzcarro Murcatto ("Monza") has come close to putting her employer, Duke Orso, on the throne, which would realize his lifelong dream of supremacy. He's a suspicious man, though, and Monza's success has brought her renown; fearing that she may try to convert that into political power, he has her and her brother brutally murdered and thrown off the battlements of his fortress.

Unfortunately for him, he fails to ensure that she's actually dead.


A mysterious stranger finds her broken body and nurses her back to health; suspicious in turn of his motives, Monza escapes as soon as she's able, and swears revenge on all the men present at her "murder"; seven in all, counting Orso, his two sons, his general, Monza's treacherous second-in-command, Orso's bodyguard, and the banker who's Orso's financial backer.

To do this, she assembles a team of oddballs; a warrior Northman failing at becoming a better man, a numbers-obsessed ex-convict, a pompous poisoner and his gluttonous assistant, an ex-torturer, and the alcoholic old mercenary captain that Monza replaced. The task begins easily enough, but Monza soon discovers that going after the powerful has consequences — to her, to her companions, and to the fate of Styria as a whole.


This work provides examples of :

  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Morveer frequently doses himself with his own poisons to keep immune to them.
  • Action Girl: Monza. Vitari.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Cosco brings up examples of performers who also fight by alliterating pairs of trades, until he can't think of something to alliterate with "jugglers."
  • Alliterative Name: Monzcarro Murcatto
  • All Part of the Show: Shivers agrees to engage in a pantomime battle with Greylock. Greylock seems to understand that it's a pretend battle, even if Shivers isn't totally convinced he understands the concept of a fake fight. Greylock understands well enough, but he's secretly planning to kill Shivers anyway, as revenge for his brother's death during the war against Bethod. He attacks Shivers for real during their supposed mock fight, while the onlookers comment on how real it all looks, including a man asking "how did they do that?" when Shivers ends up slicing off Greylock's arm.
  • An Axe to Grind: Shivers.
  • And Then What?: Orso at one point asks Monza what, since he's defined her entire life up to this point, she'll do with herself once she actually succeeds in killing him, with Monza having previously reflected herself that she hadn't expected to live long enough to claim revenge on all her targets. Monza just responds, "I'll think of something," and runs him through.
  • Anti-Hero: Monza. It's clear that she's not a nice person right from the beginning, but Orza's brutal betrayal of her keeps her sympathetic. However, as the story goes along, it becomes increasingly clear that Monza's revenge isn't exactly justice, and that she and her brother kind of had it coming.
  • The Apprentice: Day, who starts of as Morveer's apprentice and then becomes his assistant.
  • Arc Words:
    • Monza's "Mercy and cowardice are the same."
    • "Monza, Monza, what would I do without you?" Said by both Cosca and Orso, two people who have been both comrades and enemies to Monza.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: General Ganmark is one of the finest swordsmen in the world.
  • Barbarian Longhair: Shivers wears his hair long in imitation of his brother, though not all Northmen have long hair. He gets an Important Haircut to better blend in with Styria's Italian Renaissance Fantasy Counterpart Culture, but ultimately lets it grow out again.
  • Berserk Button: Friendly will put up with a lot but don't accuse him of using loaded dice. Ever.
  • Best Served Cold: One of those times when the trope names the work. Revenge is the motivation for quite a few characters. The title is especially appropriate to the book's themes because, in the end, vengeance proves cold comfort.
  • Big Eater: Day is almost always eating something, though she's never described as overweight. Even after she dies, Morveer still thinks about how much she'd enjoy whatever food is in front of him.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: By the end of the book you won't be surprised by who murders, exploits, or betrays who, you'll be surprised that it's taking them so long.
  • Bookends: The book starts and ends with the words "The sunrise was the color of bad blood."
  • Break Them by Talking: Ganmark does this to Murcatto.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Monza and her brother Benna.
  • Brutal Honesty: Orso notes Shenkt's blunt honesty when they arrange his contract.
  • Bullet Time: When Shenkt uses his Super Speed, time seems to slow down to him, making it seem that he's moving normally while everything else moves at a snail's pace. Because he's moving so fast, the force of his blows is increased many times over.
  • The Butcher: Monza's epithet is "The Butcher of Caprile", because of the bloody sack of that city by her army. It turns out that she gave explicit orders not to sack the city, which were ignored in her absence while she was reporting to Duke Orso.
  • Call-Back:
    • When Shivers first talks to Morveer about magic, Morveer the Flat-Earth Atheist scoffs at him. In a later chapter, Morveer asks how Shivers plans to get inside the banking house, and Shivers replies, "Magic."
    • Monza's line, "Irony? In a prison?" is a callback to the line from The First Law, "Rhetoric? In a sewer?"
    • Cosca once again misses with his throwing knife, which was a Running Gag in The First Law.
  • Carnival of Killers:
  • Catchphrase: Several.
    • "Mercy and Cowardice are the same thing." -Monza
    • "I'm trying to be a better man." -Shivers
    • "Caution first, always." -Morveer
    • "Six and one." -Friendly
  • Character Development: Shivers and Monza both grow as people, for better or worse. In the case of Cosca he lampshades the fact that he stops being a worthless drunk and chooses to change right back to being a drunk again.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Double-subverted with the King of Poisons. Day uses it to poison Morveer, but he reveals that its existence was a ruse to fool her. Later, he unveils his "Preparation 12" poison, which has all the properties he ascribed to the King of Poisons, most notably his lack of resistance to it. He does, in fact, get poisoned by it.
    • Cosca's sudden and repeated conversations about his goat.
    • A lot of attention is brought on Monza's habit of wearing gloves to hide her maimed hand, mainly through her contemplating her injuries and others commenting on her hiding the injury. This is how she survives Morveer's mass assassination by contact poison.
    • Ganmark's fighting ability is referenced early on in a couple of throw-away lines, where Benna says he can't be as good as his reputation says, and Monza replies that he is. It's completely forgotten about until Monza faces him in single combat, when she reveals that he's one of the best swordsmen in the world.
  • Cherry Tapping: Ganmark toys with Monza during their duel. He fights her left-handed and, after defeating her, tosses her sword back to her for a second round.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: More or less Hat of the Styrians, but Nicomo Cosca takes it as a point of pride as an experienced mercenary.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Duke Salier's torturers in Visserine, and what they do to Shivers.
  • Cool Sword: Monza bears a Calvez sword, crafted by the greatest swordmaker in living memory.
  • Conspicuous Gloves: Monza wears a glove at almost all times over one of her hands to hide the fact that it is horribly maimed/disfigured as a result of the attempt to assassinate her during the first chapter. At one point in the novel, she disguises herself as a High-Class Call Girl and is able to benefit from the fact that the "uniform" includes long opera gloves. And her formal wear including gloves for the same reasons, which is why she's the only member of the Styrian upper crust to survive Rogont's coronation.
  • Cycle of Revenge: While the plot follows Monza's Roaring Rampage of Revenge, others have or acquire reasons to take vengeance on her and her group, and this actively impedes her own pursuit of revenge: Greylock tries to settle an old score on Shivers, and Carlot dan Eider informs Duke Orso of Monza's plans in vengeance for ruining her life.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Everyone in Styria had one at some point, but Monza and Benna got theirs fairly early. After their father died, Monza worked her hands to the bone to singlehandedly manage their tiny farm and support Benna. She barely got any money for her work, and was setting up for the second harvest when looters from a war across the border pillaged their home. An ex-soldier who lived in the village got a group together to raid the looters in return, which Monza and Benna joined up with. Both killed and stole from three of the looters, and that got the siblings more money than a considerable number of good harvests would. Monza and Benna joined up with the Thousand Swords after this lesson. Monza getting thrown off a cliff after raising Duke Orso to power sent her even farther down into cynicism.
  • Decadent Court: Monza's complete failure to realize that she was part of one is how the whole story got started. The glimpses we see of the courts found in the League of Eight imply that this is the norm in Styria.
  • Death by Irony:
    • After spending most of the novel harping on how many men his profession die, Morveer dies in exactly the manner described.
    • Ganmark is killed by one of the works of art he invaded to steal falling on him.
    • Rogont is killed by his own (poisoned) crown.
  • Deconstruction:
    • The plot revolves entirely on the premise that revenge, while a glorified pursuit in stories, is self-destructive and only causes people to come after you in kind. After her surgery, Monza has a clear choice of leaving Styria with her fortune, or pursuing the most powerful man in the land in order to kill him and his slightly less powerful associates. She chooses the latter, and her vendetta ends up with a lot more people killed than what she set out for, good men injured, and escalating the war that Monza gets tangled up in.
    • Everyone in Styria also has a low opinion of honor and mock those who adhere to Honor Before Reason, and characters take turns savaging the idea that killing people in an honorable way is any different than stabbing them in the back.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Cosca notes that "indiscriminate slaughter" is a bit redundant.
  • Double Standard: Cosca openly admits that he's forgiven Monza but not his lieutenants for the same act of a betrayal purely because she's a beautiful woman and they're ugly men.
  • The Dreaded: The Cripple is greatly feared, particularly by Carlot dan Eider.
  • Dual Wielding: Friendly uses a cleaver and knife to great effect. General Ganmark is also an expert swordsman in the Union style of long and short steels.
  • Duel to the Death: Several, usually when Mosca finally gets within striking distance of her targets.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Monza ends up as Duchess of Talins, refuses to become beholden to any faction, and looks like she's going to make a strong but fair ruler with a strong practical streak. Certainly, one better than the standard run of city rulers encountered in the rest of the book.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: At the start of the novel, Duke Orso's inner circle includes a warrior woman that rose from peasantry and an openly gay man, both of which many otherwise "nicer" rulers would never even have considered employing. It's explicitly noted that Orso can be very open-minded if there's the services of a skilled fighter in it for him.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Morveer poisons Monza and Shivers during their first meeting to discuss Monza's job offer, establishing him as cunning, ruthless and not to be trusted. His next scene, where he mocks Shivers mercilessly for no reason, establishes him as a jerkass.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Vitari is an ex-Torture Technician gone freelance and Shenkt is a notorious assassin with cannibalism-fueled magical powers. They love each other dearly, are married in Unholy Matrimony and dote on their children.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Monza kills people for a living and wants revenge at all costs, but even she thinks poisoning all the clerks in a major bank just to make sure one man dies is a bit over the top.
  • Evil Gloating: Lampshaded twice.
    Morveer, liking nothing better than a captive audience, could not resist explaining how it had been managed.

    "Why is it that men pointing loaded flatbows always feel the need to gloat, rather than simply letting fly?"
    "Gloating's fun."
  • Exact Words: "First we pretend. Then we fight for real." "Fighting for real" was supposed to mean against others, but Greylock means him and Shivers stop pretending to fight each other and fight each other for real.
  • Eye Scream: Shivers has one of his eyes burned out.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Shivers. Monza notes that he's changed from a likable optimist to a cold-blooded killer under her watch, and never trusts him again.
  • Fake Defector: Faithful Carpi is tricked into an ambush when Shivers pretends to betray Monza in order to claim the bounty on her head. This being Styria, his treachery is accepted with very little doubt. This is foreshadowing for when Shivers tries to kill Monza for real a few chapters later.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Styria is fundamentally Renaissance Italy, made up of warring city-states.
  • Fantastic Drug: Husk, which Monza starts using to dull the pain of her many injuries. It appears to be a loose expy of opium.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Both Morveer and Day try to have pleasant and professional personalities, with varying degrees of success, but it's just an disarming act. They are treacherous and cruel people.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Morveer and Day scoff at Shivers' claims to have witnessed magic, proclaiming that science is the only true power in the world.
  • Flock of Wolves: By the end of the sixth volume, one of Monza's party members is dead after attempting to kill her master, two are in charge of Monza's former mercenary band that she has an Enemy Mine with, and three carry out separate plans of her assassination (though Vitari and Shenkt are Good All Along).
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Monza notices the Bone Thief's hobby of whittling. That same hobby is shared by Shenkt, who is revealed to be the same person.
    • When an informant lists Monza's collaborators and gets to Vitari, Shenkt frowns. This is played off as Shenkt concentrating on the task at hand, but we later learn that Vitari is Shenkt's lover, and this is a rather rude discovery for him.
    • "Be nice to come out of this with both his eyes."
    • "How do most of our competitors die?" "Poisoned by their own concoctions."
    • "Never had much of a head for treachery."
    • When Morveer looks like he might tumble from the side of the bank house, Day has a slight smile on her face. She ultimately betrays him.
    • Greylock repeats, "First we pretend. Then we fight for real." Shivers doesn't realize that "we fight for real" means Greylock and him.
  • Functional Addict:
    • Monza becomes addicted to husk during her extensive recovery, and for part of the novel is quite functional despite her dependence on it. Later on, she goes cold turkey and stops using the drug, but knows she will have cravings for the rest of her life.
    • Cosca is a serious alcoholic and had long since reached the non-functional stage when introduced, but for the rest of the novel stays sober and functions quite well (despite desperately wanting a drink the whole time). At the end of the novel in a subversion of Character Development, he immediately goes back to drinking the instant that it no longer serves his plans to stay sober.
  • The Ghost: The Cripple (Sand dan Glokta) is mentioned a number of times, but never makes an appearance, being in a different country.
  • Good with Numbers: Friendly, who is obsessed with numbers, numerology, and counting to an OCD level. Cosca states that his talent with accounting makes him invaluable.
  • Gotta Kill 'Em All: All seven of the men who betrayed Monza and killed her brother.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The epic feud between Bayaz and Khalul is occasionally referenced as the engine behind all the war and suffering.
  • Handicapped Badass: Monza's right hand was maimed during her attempted assassination, forcing her to fence with her left. Despite fencing with her non-dominant hand, General Ganmark is the only swordsman she can't match, and Ganmark is a match for her and Cosca at once.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: essentially Shivers' story arc in a nutshell.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords:
    • Monza has her trusty Calvez rapier, not a showy blade but of the highest quality.
    • Used to highlight how morally gray the main cast is. Friendly uses a sword once in the whole novel, and expresses distaste for it before leaving it in his victim and going back to his knife and cleaver. Shivers uses a sword before his Face Heel Turn and switches to an axe after.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Deliciously subverted with Cosca's apparent death in Visserine. He is found by the invading soldiers, mistaken for a friendly casualty because of the uniform he stole and wore to infiltrate, and nursed back to health. He then proceeds to reclaim leadership of the Thousand Swords, right from under Monza's nose.
  • High-Class Call Girl:
    • Carlot dan Eider has become one as part of her role as a Honey Trap working for The Union.
    • Monza and Vitari disguise themselves as these during their plot to kill Aryo.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Morveer is poisoned by his own poison, something that he notes is very common among poisoners.
    • Earlier, General Ganmark is impaled upon the sculpture he's come to Visserine to loot.
    • Orso tries to get rid of the Murcatto Bros. to protect his throne, but instead he sets off a chain of events that leads to his own downfall at the battle of Ospria:
      • In her quest for revenge Monza kills his two best captains, Ganmark and Fedele Carpi, so he's stuck with the treacherous Costa (who gets paid more by Rogont to sit and watch the battle) and the inexperienced Prince Foscar (who easily falls in Rogont's trap).
      • After Ario's murder in Sipani, also courtesy of Monza, the usually neutral Chancellor Sotorius fears Orso could hold him responsible for his son's death; so he decides to side with Rogont, hoping he manages to defeat the Duke and save Sipani from his wrath.
  • Hourglass Plot: Monza starts out as coldly ruthless and expresses a mocking attitude toward Shivers' optimism and desire to be a better person (and continually encourages him to engage in shady behavior). Eventually, Monza has a Face Realization and ends up as a better person, whereas Shivers has a Face–Heel Turn, and Monza despairs about how he turned out given how he started.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The incredibly egotistical Morveer notes to himself that he cannot abide arrogance, stating that humility costs nothing.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Shenkt and Ishri, continuing the proud traditions of the Eaters.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Deconstructed, naturally. Many of the Carnival of Killers Cosca hires use improbable weapons, most notably a firebreather (the mundane, circus variant) who likes to weaponize his talents. None of these weapons really work well, from simply being impractical to actively suicidal; the firebreather caught himself on fire and burned to death.
  • Ironic Echo: At the very start of the novel, Orso asks Monza, then his prize general, "Monza, Monza. What would I do without you?" At the end of the novel and at the final step of Monza's Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Orso asks Monza what she'll do with her life once she's no longer consumed with a desire for revenge by asking, "Monza, Monza. What would do you without me?"
  • Ironic Nickname:
    • Shivers notes that Friendly is awfully reticent for a man named Friendly. He's told the name was probably meant to be ironic. However, Friendly is the least actively malicious character in Monza's gang.
    • Zigzags with Faithful Carpi. On one hand, he previously betrayed Cosca, but on the other, his betrayal was in staying faithful to Monza when she betrayed their leader. He later proceeds to backstab Monza, but as he points out, doing so stayed faithful to her example, as Carpi's betrays her in the same manner that she betrayed Cosca, and for the same motivation.
    • Played straight with Lucky Nim, a minor character who dies quickly due to bad luck.
  • Irony: Half the betrayals in the book are by accident.
    • Morveer does more to aid Monza after turning on her than he did when he was working for her.
    • Monza wasn't killed by the poisoned crown because she had to wear gloves to hide her disfigured hand, so, as Cosca points out, Orso's attempt to kill her ended up saving her life.
  • It's Personal: Duke Orso killed Monza's beloved brother Benna (as well as permanently maiming and almost killing Monza herself).
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Monza. Cosca nails it, near the end, after she repeats that "Mercy and cowardice are the same": "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."
  • Knife Nut: Friendly only uses knives. He even contemplates his distaste for swords and preference for knives.
  • Large Ham: Nicomo Cosca. Actually plot relevant, as Victus understands that the praise Cosca heaps upon his fallen comrades is a lie and Cosca has been executing them.
  • Mad Doctor: The Bone Thief Shenkt who puts Monza back together.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: Duke Salier shows off two sculptures intended to be displayed as a pair, one of the artist's mother and the other of his favorite whore. Monza snaps that she has no time for artists' mothers and whores.
  • Magic Versus Science: Morveer is a strong advocate of science, and magic is not strongly believed in Styria.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The prophet Kalul for the Gurkish. Bayaz for Sulfur and the Bank of Valint and Balk, as alluded to in this book and previously revealed in The First Law.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Benna Murcatto has been manipulating Monza throughout her career as a mercenary. She reflects in the end that his method was always to work behind her back until she had no choice but to follow through with his ruthless but highly profitable plans.
  • Master Poisoner: Morveer's profession. He even has apprentices.
  • Master Swordsman: Ganmark is one of the best swordsmen in the world. He completely outclasses Monza and Cosca.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Castor Morveer: the castor bean is the source of ricin, a lethal and hard-to-trace poison.
    • Day, Morveer's apprentice, is blond and appears sunnily innocent.
    • Caul Shivers, like all Northern Named Men, bears a meaningful nickname. He's named 'Caul' for being born with a caul (part of the amniotic sac) on his head, but 'Shivers' is thanks to falling in a freezing cold river on his first raid and climbing out shivering with cold. He tells people sometimes that it's because his enemies shiver with terror, but this is a lie.
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: The way the Bone Thief puts Monza back together in this manner after her grisly attempted murder and near-fatal fall. It borders on a non-cyborg version of We Can Rebuild Him, as it seems pretty clear that there is no way normal Renaissance-era medical techniques could have healed someone who had suffered such extensive injuries.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the torture Shivers has nightmares where his friends and foes - including his loved ones - show up with horrible injuries and mock him for his idealism... and then he complains about how cliched their words are and his own hallucinations get all defensive and basically say "Dude, don't blame us, this is your dream!".
  • Mundane Utility: Shenkt uses his Bullet Time perceptions that come with his Super Speed to elongate and savor his quality time with Vitari.
  • Musical Assassin: The fighters Monza brings in to Carlotti's House of Leisure have to pass as performers until they strike, so Monza recruits thugs with skills in performance. There's a surprisingly large supply.
  • The Napoleon: Shivers chews out Morveer in the Northern tongue for giving him grief, saying that short men like him try to show off how clever they are to make them feel big.
  • Non-Action Guy: The poisoners, Morveer and Day, are not fighters. Day does prove a decent shot with a flatbow, however.
  • The Nondescript: Morveer chose Day as his apprentice largely because of her blandly pleasant and forgettable looks, which helps when trying to infiltrate places to poison people.
  • Not Good with Rejection: The final piece of Shivers' Face–Heel Turn is when his feelings of rejection make him decide to betray Monza, though it takes him some time to commit to the idea.
  • No One Should Survive That: The first chapter of the book ends with Monza being nearly garroted by a wire that digs into her hand, stabbed by a sword, throat cut, and then thrown off of a steep cliff. The only reason she survives the landing is that she landed on her brother's corpse on the way down, and that there was a reclusive surgeon nearby. This was solely due to the fact that he's occasionally found dead bodies where she landed, showing that Duke Orso used this method in the past quite well.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Discussed. Cosca doesn't believe that things used to be better, and thinks that it's only natural for people to get less idealistic and more aware of the darkness in the world as they age.
  • Nothing Personal: The soldier responsible for putting out Shivers' eye has that attitude. Shivers throws back her half-assed concilliatory words back at her while running her through with his sword.
  • Not Quite Dead: Monza, who Duke Orso is convinced that he killed. Later, Nicomo Cosca.
  • Oh, Crap!: Shivers and another Northman named Greylock whom he's never met are meant to be putting on a pantomime of the battle between Logen Ninefingers and Fenris the Feared, with Shivers playing Logen and Greylock as the Feared. However, Greylock is the older brother of the boy murdered by Black Dow at Uffrith during the war against Bethod; one of the only casualties in that engagement, but enough to cause Greylock to swear revenge on anyone who fought on Dow's side. Shivers doesn't know this until the battle begins, and Greylock attacks him with full intent to kill.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Friendly's real name is never revealed, nor do any characters seem to take interest in it, to the point that his official title in the Thousand Swords is "First Sergeant Friendly."
  • Perfect Poison:
    • The opening scene for master poisoner Castor Morveer shows him showing his apprentice, Day, the most potent poison he knows, "The King of Poisons", a toxin that is both completely undetectable and impossible to build up an immunity against, and should only be used against someone who is protected against all else to keep the secret. However much to Day's later dismay, the "King of Poisons" is merely a sham concocted by Morveer in case the apprentice betrays him, and is in fact harmless.
    • Late in the story, Morveer reveals his "Preparation 12," which is a perfect poison. It kills on contact, and is too strong to build a resistance against.
  • Perky Female Minion: Day, to Morveer.
  • Poison-and-Cure Gambit: Used several times by Morveer and Day, sometimes played straight, but other times there was in fact no poison at all; in one of those cases, the "antidote" was actually the real poison, tricking the victim into consuming it themselves.
  • Poisoned Weapon: Morveer and Day use poisoned needles as weapons.
  • Professional Killer: Many. Everyone in Monza's gang is being hired to kill people, and the group hires temporary mercenaries as well. Orso recruits killers to go after Monza's gang, including Shenkt.
  • Psycho for Hire:
    • An argument could be made for any of Monza's recruits but it comes across most consistently with Morveer. He initially appears to be a sophisticated (if slightly eccentric) gentleman assassin, but his egomania and disdain for human life quickly become apparent. As more and more of his back story opens up it only gets worse. Subverted in how he frets about his own lack of people skills and how at times he genuinely wants people to relate to and understand him.
    • Subverted with Shenkt, who was working to help Monza against his supposed employer the whole time.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad:
    • Orso's inner circle who participated in the attack on Monza and Benna.
    • Andiche, Sessaria, and Victus: the commanders reporting directly to the captain general of the Thousand Swords.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Monza's revenge crew.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Ganmark spends his duel with Monza explaining very clearly how useless, destructive and hypocritical her Roaring Rampage of Revenge is.
    • Many of Monza's victims criticize her for being largely responsible for all the bad things that have happened to her and also point out all the misery that her quest for vengeance causes others.
    • Shivers and Monza say these to each other frequently when their relationship is at a low point.
    • Monza also delivers these to Salier and Rogont for handing Orso the rulership of Styria due to selfishness.
  • The Red Baron: Sand dan Golkta is referred to only as "the Cripple" in this book.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Shenkt's Bullet Time power gives him the ability to use his bare hands as cutting and piercing weapons, owing to their supernatural velocity. It also renders his limbs immune to the inertia of his actions, so he doesn't smash himself to bits as his hands pierce through muscle and bone at high velocity.
  • Retirony: Morveer notes how ironic it is for him to die on the eve of his retirement.
  • The Reveal:
    • Shenkt is the Bone Thief from the start of the story.
    • And Orso's fears were well-founded, as Benna was planning to overthrow him without Monza's knowledge.
  • Revenge: Monza's motivation.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Monza systematically works her way through the list of those who participated in her brother's murder and her attempted murder. Deconstructed like all hell. Eventually (somewhat) reconstructed, as she succeeds in her goal, becomes the ruler of Styria, and averts the And What Now scenario many of her allies were predicting.
  • Scars Are Forever: Abercrombie loves his scarred and maimed characters, and this is no exception;
    • Monza is stabbed, crushed and broken before being thrown off the battlements of Fontezarmo and down a mountain, and there's a limit to how much you can be repaired after that. Her right hand is permanently ruined, her face and body scarred all over, and she is in almost constant pain.
    • Shivers loses his eye at around the halfway mark, and the scar bothers him for the rest of the book.
  • Sdrawkcab Alias: Morveer's Go-to Alias is Rotsac Reevrom. He thinks this is the height of comedy, and his internal monologue admits that he can never help but giggle when he trots it out.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Morveer spends the whole book griping to himself about his time in the orphanage. When he finally questions if he did anything wrong he decides that everything from poisoning his mother on was the right thing to do.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: While planning the raid on Cardotti's House of Leisure, Cosca indulges in a bunch of fancy words, forcing Shivers to repeatedly ask what he means, and for Vitari to supply the simple translation. Shivers quickly gets annoyed.
  • Sex Montage: Used brilliantly in a scene that initially looks like Monza and Shivers patching things up, but slowly reveals that, while both are having sex, it isn't with each other.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Used brutally by Monza. When Caul Shivers arrived in Styria, he was a idealistic man who wanted to stop killing and become a better person. After coming into Monza's employ, she systematically criticizes his hopes and dreams, and does it well enough that he eventually starts coming to her line of thought. Then he gets his eye burned out during a torture session, and Shivers becomes a full-blown killer who doesn't care about much of anything anymore. She actually finds herself sickened by what she's done to the former idealist, but by then it is far too late.
  • The Starscream: Every captain general of the Thousand Swords has been deposed by his or her right-hand man. Cosca learns from the ordeal. After being reinstated he begins offing the generals who supported his overthrow.
  • Straight Gay:
    • Ganmark is an experienced general and one of the finest swordsmen in the world. He was expelled from the Union army for a sexual indiscretion with another officer. He rules out a bi scenario when he tells Monza that her brother was more his type. He misses out on being a Manly Gay with his "soft" face, watery eyes and general effeteness.
    • The Queen of the Union, formerly Princess Terez, was married to King Luthar for political reasons. She and her husband make a show of their matrimony, but as Monza recounts, Queen Terez was far more interested in her than in her brother when they met.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Discussed. Ganmark engages in some serious Break Them by Talking while dueling Monza. Monza tells him to just shut up and fight, but Ganmark counters that he can easily cut pieces from her and talk at the same time.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: To make sure Mauthis gets poisoned, Morveer goes ahead and poisons every single ledger in the bank, killing an extra forty or so additional people in the process.
  • Token Good Teammate: Shivers, in the first half of the book, is the one who always questions the ruthlessness of Monza's schemes. After his face heel turn, he's more brutal and nihilistic than she is.
  • Twisted Echo Cut: There's a scene at the party the protagonists crash where Monza/Vitari and Shivers/Cosca engage in the same conversation, but in different contexts.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Monza's injuries are described as being far more disfiguring when she is the viewpoint character. She expresses disgust at the state of her body after the raid on Cardotti's House of Leisure; this is after she's been called "quite fine" by Shivers and hand-picked by the King of the Union while wearing an outfit that the narration makes clear leaves "very little to the imagination"; if she really is obviously mutilated like she considers herself to be, others would have commented on it.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played straight and subverted. Duke Rogont's plan has already failed by the time Monza tells it back to him, then it suddenly works exactly as planned due to an unspoken factor. Benna was fond of unspoken plans that he could reveal to Monza as fait accompli; The Reveals of when they worked foreshadow the real Reveal.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Monza has been manipulated into most of the infamous actions that form her backstory by her brother Benna. At the beginning of the book Shenkt plans to use her as a pawn against Duke Orso and the Bank of Valint and Balk but she gets away. Ironically she fulfills Shenkt's plan all on her own.
  • Villain Has a Point:
    • Simultaneously played straight and inverted when Shivers turns on Monza. They both throw a flurry of accusations at the other, and both acknowledge (quietly, to themselves) that here is a lot of truth to what the other says. It doesn't stop them from going through with trying to kill each other, though.
    • Ganmark delivers a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Monza on how useless, destructive and hypocritical her revenge is.
  • Weapon of Choice: Monza favors a fencing sword and uses a Calvez rapier throughout the story. Friendly is a self-admitted and ardent Knife Nut, using a cleaver and knife to fight. Vitari still has her chain with the cruciform spike on the end, from The First Law. Morveer and Day use poisoned needles and blowguns. Played with in Shivers' use of a sword before losing his eye and an axe later, used to signify his Face Heel Turn.
  • Wham Episode: Visserine. This marks Shiver's Face Heel Turn, the dissolution of trust between him and Monza, the end of Cosca's service, and the time at which the League of Eight's fall is seen as inevitable.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Various characters, even Cosca, contemplate how the random people who get killed along the way were probably decent people with families who loved them.
  • Where It All Began: Monza confronts Orso in his fortress of Fontezarmo, where he had her "killed" in the beginning.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Lampshaded twice.
    The Bloody-Nine had told him once - if you mean to kill, you kill, you don't talk about it - and it was advice he'd always tried to stick to. ... He wasn't sure if he was talking to stretch the moment out or talking to put the moment off. But he was talking, still.

    "Why is it that men pointing loaded flatbows always feel the need to gloat, rather than simply letting fly?"
  • Wicked Cultured: The magnificent statue of Stolicus is explicitly stated to have been the object of at least two wars, as various Styrian generals (and later, Ganmark) have sought to add the master sculptor's greatest work to their personal collections.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Monza is not pleased when the female soldier who tortured Shivers and her (not knowing who they were), later tells Monza (once she knows who her prisoner was) how she considers Monza to be her hero and an inspiration.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: At the end of the novel, Cosca gives Monza a touching speech about how, despite her pretensions to ruthlessness, she is actually a good person. He gives this as a reason why he loved her and still loves her despite her betraying him in addition to the fact that Cosca knows Benna was the one who betrayed him and basically roped Monza into going along with it.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Friendly feels this way after discovering that the prison Safety has been abandoned.