Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

half the world

“Thorn put a brave face on it, as always, but a brave face can be a brittle thing.”

My second Abercrombie was no slouch, I’ll give him that. He has writing chops like you wouldn’t believe, but then, I don’t think I need to rehash the praise you’ll see everywhere. Man’s a genius, putting it lightly. From just the little I’ve read of his, I know he’ll be a favorite in due time.

But Half the World is no Half a King. It boasts twice of everything you’d think. Twice the scope. Twice the danger. Twice the characters and POV. But it fails in one simple regard: It’s predictable.

There are dark undercurrents swimming in the Shattered Sea. Rumbles of war echo across the waves and sharpened steel sits alongside those words. Gettland is beset on all sides, by Islanders and Vanstermen and even the High King himself. Grandmother Wexen is not dead, and has picked a side to wage war with her apprentice. The one with half the world at her back.

Thorn Bathu is just a girl. A young woman that wants above all else to fight in a war; be a warrior and prove them all she’s good enough. She’s worth the trouble. That the fire burning in her won’t go to waste, won’t die out like her father. Because revenge is always a good motive, whether unknowing or not.

Brand whose-last-name-I-forgot is another fighter. A man who’s only dream is to be accepted by his fellow shield brothers. But more than that, he wants to do good. He may not have some fancy words to spin or be the best beater, but he does what’s right. Even if it hurts him in the end.

However, reality has a way of crushing our dreams. Just as Thorn sees the finish line, life loses its fairness. She kills a young man in her final test. An accident, you must understand, but trial hangs by the words of one man. Brand spins himself into despair over what he could’ve done, and decides to make amends. He sets Thorn free with his word, and the minister’s, but harms his good standing with the former master.

Through a series of unfortunate events, both children end up on a boat headed to find allies. The machinations of the minster are twisting, and I’ll do my best not to spoil them. But as I said, it’s not a stretch to understand already.

Sad to say that the man guiding the wheel is Father Yarvi.

“There is no disappointment like getting what you’ve always wanted.”

He is what made Half a King so entrancing. His motive; his passion. Both of this beside his wit made him such a compelling character, and in every scene he enters here, he takes center stage. But this coming of age tale is not about him, nor Skifr’s and her wild charm. Just when I think Thorn is losing her agency to the past protagonist, she kills somebody (or some idea) and takes it back quite furiously. It’s wonderfully rewarding to see her path set straight and her strength come about as the pages fly.

Because at the heart of things, this is a page-turner. Any story riddled with war and the undercurrents of political maneuverings is sure to keep you guessing, keep you turning, and while the beginning may be slow and the rest predictable, I kept on trucking. What’s that they say? It’s not so much the story itself, but in the way you tell that tale.

“What we want and what we need may be different things.”

Yes, Abercrombie’s latest might be a Sword and Sorcery quest at its best, but it’s also a remarkable insight on two opposites trying to eke out an existence in lands they might regret stepping foot it.

The romance, like the magic, is light and sparks a fire that might go unnoticed up until it explodes onto the page. I never noticed both up until they came about, and that right there is a testament to his writing chops. Both are wild and dangerous and quite frankly, the two greatest aspects of this novel condensed into perhaps ten pages of the entire novel. Two scenes make up the entire problem I had with the book, yes, and they’ll make you yearn for answers to questions Joe isn’t about to reveal just yet.

But to say the novel stands on a few breathtaking scenes here and there is like calling Thorn a “kickass heroine.” She’s more than that, and so is this story. For one, she’s all facets of human life, showing her depths of despair and wickedness in the beginning (with healthy doses of “you don’t owe me anything stubbornness”) to tender insights on losing things and gaining them to fighting through a horde of cavalry as she grits her teeth and put weeks of work to the test. Because if there’s one thing Abercrombie does brilliantly, it’s his characters and his brutal battles.

Both exemplify on how he’s pushing the boundaries of literature. It’s not in the plot you craft as I am wont to want, or the complex societal morals if that’s your thing. No, true storytelling is in telling an unflinching look at characters in every drop of their psyche, in showing us the world and how it really is, and praying the readers go along for this bumpy ride.

I’m up for more no matter how many twists I call, because damn can he string a story along. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

“The wise wait for their moment, as Father Yarvi had often told her, but never let it pass.”

*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*

Rating: 7.5/10

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