Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Shattered Sea Book TwoPages: 385
(An advanced copy was provided by the publisher).
(Spoilers for Half A King are below).
Joe Abercrombie made a name for himself writing unpredictable and gritty fantasy stories. Since he jumped to the Young Adult book market, many worried he’d forsake a lot of the unpredictability found in his plots, and he’d have to tone down the violence. In a Half A King, Abercrombie did tone it down a bit, but managed to craft a largely unpredictable plot that avoided a lot of the cliches found in Young Adult books.
That is not the case this time around.
Half A World picks up a few years after Uthil has taken control of Gettland. Yarvi, now a minister, aids his mother Laithlin in running the country while the king’s health deteriorates. When conflict with a local tribe forces Gettland to act in a swift brutal fashion, it earns them the ire of the High King. Yarvi leads an expedition around the world with a crew of misfit sailors to conscript allies to face the coming reprisal.
Yarvi may have narrated the entirety of Half A King, but this time around he’s been delegated the status of “important secondary character.” Instead, Half The World is entirely narrated by Thorn and Brand, two young peoples coming of age that are serving in Yarvi’s crew. This is a bold departure, and quite frankly, one of the two biggest surprises in the whole book.
Brand is a warrior in training, he’s come up from the gutter, but he has a noble heart, having raised himself and his sister from a very young age. Morally Brand always wishes to make the right decision, and shockingly is the first morally sound character I’ve read in an Abercrombie book. Thorn is also a warrior in training, but due to the fact that she’s a woman she’s constantly treated unfairly by her instructor and the other students. She must overcome the odds of a patriarchal society whilst training to avenge the death of her father at the hands Grom-gil-Gorm.
Brand and Thorn are classic fantasy tropes: moralistic young hero and woman overcoming the odds have been written many a time before. Abercrombie doesn’t do anything new here either; he even descends down to the obligatory YA romance. Where as Half A King quickly established itself as unpredictable, Half The World follows a familiar formulaic path. I wouldn’t have thought Abercrombie would go down this road, so in that sense I’m genuinely surprised that he did. It almost feels like the author felt a need to prove he could write a traditional modern fantasy.
For people who like Abercrombie most because of the atypical character development and plot twists, this book will likely be a disappointment. While I like those aspects of the author’s previous books, I’ve always been a big fan of the emotional connections he creates between reader and character. Brand and Thorn may be fantasy cliches, but they come across as incredibly human, and I found myself liking them more than I liked Yarvi’s time as narrator.
Despite a number of familiar concepts, plots, and character types I still really enjoyed this book. If an author can take a tried and true concept, create compelling characters, and tell an entertaining story in it, then that is the mark of a great writer. With another unpredictable ending – one that I really enjoyed – I can’t wait to read Half A War when it hits shelves later this year.