Joe Abercrombie: Half the World

Nov 08, 2015

Half the World is the second book in the Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie. It continues with the characters introduced in Half a King I wrote about some time ago and is at least as much fun.

The story doesn’t pick up exactly where the previous book ended; some time has passed, Yarvi has become a Father as well as a right hand to his uncle Uthil, now crowned a king, and is plotting with his mother against the High King of the Shattered Sea. However, the main characters of this story are Thorn, a young female warrior of Throlby who is sentenced to death after she killed her opponent during training by accident, and another youth, a naïve oaf Brand, who turns to drinking after not being selected for a raid as a result of him speaking up on Thorn’s behalf.

Father Yarvi is setting of for a trip to find allies for Gettland against the High King. In the process he recruits condemned Thorn and provides her with a teacher and takes Brand on as well as an oar man. Motives of the book include hard training which turns into pleasure and pride on the part of Thorn, banding of unlikely group of sailors and warriors, tough journey with many perils on the way, coming of age and gaining some wisdom of both Thorn and Brand and inevitable love between the two. Of course, Yarvi is scheming and does nothing just as a gesture of good will. There are many callbacks to the previous book. Not just the same set of characters, who generally get less space, e.g. Rulf or Sumael, but also events which influence the present day. Some known characters get more room and motivations: they take mother Scaer from the First of Cities back to Gettland in a sort of a cooperation, Grom-gil-Gorm is an ever present enemy who Thorn wants to kill as a revenge for her father.

Thorn stared at it with a mixture of awe and horror. A relic beyond price. Beautiful beyond words. Sitting now, on her ridiculous bony wrist, with the bizarre magnificence of a diamond on a dung-heap

Joe Abercrombie: Half the World

Abercrombie is no newbie and knows how to write an adventure story with a varied groups of characters. It has everything you might want from a story and would be a great read just like that. There are, however, two things he manages to pull off on top of that. One is the overarching story of the series. You can guess the contours of the development, but it still sounds intriguing while not slowing down the book. It sort of changes the pacing of the story, because the big final showdown between Thorn and Grom-gil-Gorm comes pretty early on and the remaining pages are dedicated to tying some of the loose ends and setting up the scene for the following stories. This part turns pretty dark, especially in comparison to mostly lighter tone of the adventure.

The other remarkable thing is the main character: Abercrombie picked an ostracized female warrior trying to get into a boys’ club; she gets rejected over and over again and is even sentenced to death as a result of a situation purposefully built against her; later she gets a role model, appreciation and respect of other crew mates, proves herself and gets to stand her ground, eventually taking girls similar to her under her wing. Obviously, this won’t fly with the Sad Puppies but I liked it quite a lot.

In the songs, Angulf Clovenfoot’s Gettlanders fell upon the Vanstermen like hawks from an evening sky. Master Hunnan’s misfits fell on Rissentoft like a herd of sheep down a steep flight of steps.

Joe Abercrombie: Half the World

Whenever I read a series, I try to pace myself and space the books as not to get overwhelmed or sick of it. I think this series doesn’t pose such a danger. It is a fun, engaging page turner with overarching plot and great characters you have to love.