Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
|Book Name:||Half the World|
|Publisher(s):||Del Rey (US) Harper Voyager (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Release Date:||February 17, 2015 (US) February 12, 2015 (UK)|
With his second foray into the young adult genre, Joe Abercrombie continues to keep us on our toes.
Half the World continues the story of Yarvi, now the “deeply cunning” minister of Gettland, but rather than continuing Yarvi’s story through his own eyes, as Abercrombie did in Half a King, he now moves the plot forward through two more coming-of-age tales focused on the development of two new characters.
Thorn, a young swordswoman who grew up idolizing her father, is on the cusp of joining the ranks of Gettland’s warriors when her final test takes a turn for the worst and she accidentally kills a fellow trainee. Charged with murder by her venomous master-at-arms, Thorn is slated to die until Brand, another teenager with dreams of becoming a warrior, approaches Yarvi and describes what really happened in an effort to do the right thing.
It’s a decision that works out poorly for Brand, who is exiled from Gettland’s raiding party for his disloyalty, but it does prompt Yarvi to spare Thorn’s life and instead make her swear an oath to serve him. It’s not long before that oath requires Thorn to make a journey alongside Yarvi and Brand in a desperate effort to find allies for Gettland in its coming confrontation with the High King.
Several familiar characters return from Half a King, including Rulf, once more steadfastly at Yarvi’s side, and Sumael, who plays a key role. But Abercrombie also introduces us to a swath of new characters, most of whom are outcasts just like Thorn and Brand.
Just as we saw Yarvi grow from a fearful child in Half a King, Half the World provides us the opportunity to see Abercrombie slowly develop his protagonists over the course of this coming-of-age story. Thorn and Brand may open the book with the same goal – to become Gettland warriors – but they’re very much opposite sides of the same coin. Impetuous and often childish, Thorn is fueled by rage at everyone around her; determined to support his sister even as he strives for battlefield honors, Brand is far more introspective and thoughtful.
Of course, early in the book, that introspection and desire to do the right thing gets Brand into trouble:
“A man who gives all his thought to doing good but no thought to the consequences …” Father Yarvi lifted his withered hand and pressed its one crooked finger into Brand’s chest. “That is a dangerous man.”
Over the course of the book, as Brand gets his first taste of battle and kills his first enemies, he begins to lose his naiveté and comes to realize that he isn’t in love with Mother War in the same way Thorn is. Instead, in his quest to become a “good man,” he realizes that often the best thing a man can do is avoid a fight rather than finish it.
Whereas Abercrombie’s previous works often relied heavily on surprise betrayals to drive the plot, Half the World actually has the opposite theme. Yarvi once again collects a band of misfits to help him, and over the course of the novel this disparate collection of ne’er-do-wells comes together despite their differences. Whereas “never trust anyone” could be considered a message in almost all Abercrombie’s previous works, the Shattered Sea books, and especially Half the World, encourage teamwork and unity.
While I would recommend reading Half a King before Half the World, it isn’t strictly necessary. Abercrombie mixes in sly references to the events of the first book, but since point-of-view characters Thorn and Brand are only vaguely aware of those events, there are only fleeting references when Yarvi speaks with Rulf or Sumael, and they aren’t crucial to understanding the story.
Nonetheless, Half a King is the better entry point, especially since it’s actually a slightly stronger work. While the ship’s crew in Half the World is entertaining, most of the characters seem like people we’ve seen before, either in Abercrombie’s own work or in other young adult books, and Abercrombie doesn’t quite pull out the startling revelations at the end of the book the same way he did in Half a King, as too many of the book’s final plot points could be seen well in advance.
Yarvi proved himself to be a fascinating protagonist in Half a King, a young man who learns that getting what he wants at the end of that book comes at a heavy price. As readers, we don’t truly appreciate his cleverness until the final chapter, when he reveals his surprising true enemies and demonstrates his ability to see the bigger picture in the final plot twist. Half the World never quite matches Half a King’s powerful themes and ability to surprise. Nevertheless, about two-thirds through the book, Abercrombie stages an amazingly brutal fight scene that blends wit and characterization and violence in a way that made it the most memorable portion of the book and a highlight in a story that featured Abercrombie’s trademark easy storytelling and witty dialogue.
It may not match its predecessor, but Half the World proves that even when he’s not in peak form, Abercrombie is better than 99% of the field. It’s a fun read, always moving forward, with moments of character development woven expertly amongst the action. With Abercrombie’s unique humor ever-present, it’s never a dull read.
Nonetheless, when it was over, I couldn’t help but think that I’d been hoping for just a bit more based upon the ridiculously high expectations Half a King set. Of course, as any of Abercrombie’s characters could have told me, that’s the way it is with hopes…