A Study of how Time Effects a Novel

aaaI present to you Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie, which is set on the fictional island of Styria.

The events of the novel take place between the years 579 and 580 AU (After the Union), so the time span is about a year.

The book is all in the past tense but, because it is set in a fictional universe, it is not appropriate to say whether it was set in the past, present or future. If it was set in this universe, the setting would be rather similar to renaissance Italy, but it’s not, so it’s not.

The book is structured thus (beware – spoilers): young female soldier is betrayed by cruel boss and his cronies (an hour), cast down a mountain to die (few minutes), is rescued and recovers (about three months), sets off to get revenge on the half-dozen or so cronies that turned on her (about a month each), gets made a general or something (a month), sets out to kill the main bad guy who is eventually made dead (another month) . Then there is some tidying up of the plot lines and they all go home for a nice cup of tea (a couple of weeks tops).

At the end of the day, the structure of it all is very sequential. There’s not much in terms of flashback or foreshadowing and so it’s all pretty much in the here and now of the dialogue and events (even though it is nominally in the past tense).

There are some parts of the novel, primarily the fight scenes, that are covered in detail and so these parts are shown. Other parts are skipped over very quickly and so we are told what is happening. This is necessary because if we were shown details of the all the time passing between the revenge scenes then the book would be considerably longer than the 739 pages it already is, at the considerable risk of boring readers out their minds.

Thematically, this story is about revenge. Much of the novel, therefore, relates to the feelings of the young woman with respect to the events at the beginning of the novel, when she was betrayed. Although there are no actual flashbacks, the events of this period understandably weigh heavily on her mind and give her impetus to carry out the brutal actions that fill the rest of the novel.

Time is not a major factor in this novel and yet, as we have seen, it impacts the story in many diverse ways.


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