An interview with fantasy author Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold scored a mighty four-and-a-half out of five in the latest edition of SFX (issue 184, on sale now) and is his fourth successful fantasy novel. We were privileged to have a pint or two with Joe in Bath last week and he chatted to us a little bit about the book, which hit the shelves earlier in June.

SFX: How much do new readers need to know about the previous books you've written?
Abercrombie: "It’s intended to work as a standalone that new readers can just dive straight into. So nothing. But folks who’ve read the First Law (my previous trilogy) will see a few familiar faces appear here and there, and hopefully for them it will serve as a continuation of the life of the world, at least. So it combines the best of both worlds of sequel and standalone. Honest."

SFX: Can you list five words which describe Best Served Cold?
Abercrombie: "Violent. Unpredictable. Dark. Riveting. Beige."

SFX: Styria feels like Condotierri era Italy. Was that the starting point for this new story?
Abercrombie: "I’d always been fascinated by renaissance Italy, by the feuding city states, the Machiavellian politics, the poisonous popes and the rampaging mercenaries, and by the combination of intense creativity and mad destruction that was going on at the time. Plus there’s a great tradition of Italianate revenge stories, so it seemed like a good fit..."

SFX: I'm glad I'm not a character in one of your books, because they all end up getting hurt. What is it with you and torture?
Abercrombie: "I guess I was frustrated by the way that in the fantasy I read as a kid, in spite of all the violence, there were rarely any consequences. The emotional costs were ignored and there was usually some magical solution to the physical ones. I wanted my characters to suffer."

SFX: This latest book has fewer instances of magic in it that the First Law series. In some ways it almost feels like a historical adventure story rather than what we might think of as high fantasy. Was this your intention? What sort of creative freedom comes from this?
Abercrombie: "My preference tends to be for fewer fantastical elements. In general I’m more interested in those things that fantasy has in common with all other kinds of literature – the dialogue, the characterisation, the plotting and the action – than in those things that separate it – the worldbuilding, the magic, the exotic races. But at the same time writing fantasy gives you the opportunity to exaggerate for effect, to have things a little larger and more colourful than life. And also, of course, you needn’t research things exhaustively to get historical details accurate. You don’t have to wonder whether someone really would have worn pointy boots at that time and that place, you can just give them whatever kind of boots work for the scene."

SFX: Which of your own characters in your books is your secret favourite?
Abercrombie: "I like the unpleasant and conflicted, dark and surprising, dangerous yet appealing ones. Oh. That’s all of them."

What's the best (or the worst!) thing a critic has ever said about Best Served Cold so far?
Abercrombie: "Best? "Best Served Cold? Modern fantasy doesn’t get much hotter than this." SFX, as it happens… Worst: "A chore to get through." Though I’m expecting much worse in due course, and shall greatly relish it when it arrives."

SFX: What can we expect to see in your universe next?
Abercrombie: "Another standalone. If Best Served Cold is a fantasy thriller, this will be a fantasy war story. The story of the build up to, events during, and consequences of a great three day battle from the points of view of various different weird and wonderful characters on both sides and at varying levels of the command structure. Expect blood, bravery, cowardice, derring-do, and derring-don’t. And blood."

SFX: What other big things are going on in SF and fantasy fiction right now - who else are you reading and enjoying?
Abercrombie: "I read pathetically little of anything these days, particularly SF and fantasy, but the last thing I read and enjoyed was Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls. A lot of fun."

SFX: Cheers Joe!

You can read the full review of Best Served Cold back in SFX 184, which is now off sale. Click here for Joe Abercrombie's official website and blog .