Friday, January 30, 2015

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World is the second book in The Shattered Sea fantasy series. It picks up where Half a King finished up, but Yarvi has become a secondary character in his own tale. The new main characters are Thorn and Brand. Abercrombie is a little heavy handed with Thorn’s name, as she is a thorn in everyone’s side.

Brand and Thorn are teenagers trying to become warriors for Gettland. Due to a series of connected circumstances, they fail at passing their tests and become part of a crew on a ship with Yarvi. Yarvi is trying to find allies for Gettland against the High King.

I enjoyed Half the World but not quite as much as Half a King. It’s one long set up for the climax. A misunderstanding keeps two lovers apart for longer than was believable. I expected to see more of King Uthil, and he is a minor and ineffective character. I hope he returns in glory in the third book.

Abercrombie is a gritty, realistic writer, which I like most of the time although he seems a little obsessed with snot. (There are multiple references to people picking their noses or expelling snot.) Thorn’s inconvenient menstruation is a plot point early in the book – refreshing to find in a fantasy novel - but it never comes up again.

Thorn is not as sympathetic a character as Yarvi and definitely not as likeable. Brand is much more so but the focus is on Thorn. Yarvi is clever, a man of deep cunning, and a master manipulator in a complicated relationship with his fascinating mother the Queen. I would have liked to have seen inside their heads more.

I like Abercrombie’s world and his way with words. I like that he has strong female characters and thoughtful male characters. Brand and his sister have lived in poverty and struggled to survive for many years. When he returns from his long voyage with his pay, he finds that his sister has become a swordsmith and now lives in a fine house.

“Gods,” whispered Brand. “I was going to change your life. You did it by yourself.” (p. 231 of the advance reader copy)

This entry in the series feels less original than the first, but it’s packaged in an entertaining way. There are many echoes of Tolkien (including a warrior who says “it has been foreseen that no man can kill me”), but that’s not a bad thing.

If you enjoy gritty high fantasy with well developed characters that is thoughtful about the “glory” of war, I recommend Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series.

I read an advance reader copy from It is scheduled to be published February 17. The Galesburg Public Library owns the first book in the series, Half a King, in book and audio formats. 

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