Fantasy Review: ‘Half the World’ by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)Yarvi may have given away his kingdom but that just pushed him into the shadows. The actual fact of the matter is as the King’s Minister he may be more powerful than he ever could have been as a cripple holding the thorn in a land that values strength. With pressure on the kingdom coming from all sides, most especially from The High King who rules all the lands, Yarvi starts spinning a web for Father Peace in order to avoid war. And just as he steps to the sidelines within his kingdom so does he step back from the front of the story in Half the World.

Those who enjoyed Yarvi’s story in Half a King should not despair though; his web entangles two young characters that have no problems in carrying the story. Thorn is a young woman who wishes to follow her father’s path more than her mother’s. She fails a rigged test and is named a murderer before swearing an oath to Yarvi in order save her life. Brand dreams of being a warrior but is cursed with a habit of doing ‘the right thing;’ because of this he finds himself off the roster when the raid he trained for sets out.

Genuinely likable characters in a story that deals with an incoming war, betrayals, and a decent amount of blood. Thorn is trained to be an edged blade; relying on a combination of strength, quickness, and the unexpected to take down bigger and stronger men. She is tough and abrasive, quick to anger and seemingly unaffected by other people’s deaths. Yet she is human with insecurities and foibles; more importantly she shows growth through the tale. Brand could fit in to any of Abercrombie’s previous works as he gains everyone’s respect though his strength and heroics; and provides a nice counter balance to Thorns fire with his calm.

The dialog is everything Abercrombie is known for and makes Half the World worth reading on its own.   Several times I found myself reading passages out loud to my wife; often fun but sometimes just very apt. And humor comes at appropriate moments, not in the middle of battles.

I have come to the realization that Abercrombie is once again twisting old tropes; but this time it is the tropes of the modern Grimdark genre he helped make prevalent that are being twisted back around. Keeping the bleak world, dark deeds and bloody battles, but then lacing it with hope. Yarvi is becoming Bayaz, complete with financial backing (provided by the Golden Queen), but with Father Peace’s goals in his ultimate game plan. Thorn and Brand are turning into Named Men of legend yet keep their humanity; complete with confusion and youthful mistakes. Brand could have easily moved the path of an increasingly disillusioned killer like Gorst had he been present in Abercrombie’s earlier works, instead he keeps his head and continues to work for what he sees as right. Thorn shows a bit of honor and even love all the while she is turning into one of the most dangerous people around.  Both are clever enough to see pieces of Yarvi’s puzzle but neither is ever able to see the whole scene.

Fast paced but with more depth that should be possible in its short page count, Half the World continues to set Abercrombie up as one of fantasy’s finest writers. The world building expands a touch, mostly by throwing in enough illusions to ensure a reader knows this is a future earth. The main cast shines and the background cast gives them a run for their money; including a few characters involved in Yarvi’s earlier trip around the sea.

5 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.



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