Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.
Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.
Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior.
She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh lessons of blood and deceit.
Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon.
Beside her on the journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption.
And weapons are made for one purpose.
Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?
Spoilers for Half A King
Half the World is Joe Abercrombie’s follow up to last year’s Half a King, This time though, there are new protagonists and new struggles.
I enjoyed this one a lot, more so than Half a King. Part of it was the character of Thorn Bathu, the fierce and rebellious teenager aspiring to follow in her dead father’s footsteps (for once I’d like a fantasy protagonist with a complete set of parents!) into becoming a warrior of Gettland. Standing in her way though is the pain in the ass trainer with a “girls belong in the house, not on the battlefield” attitude, and one thing leads to another and she finds herself imprisoned and accused of murder. She’s freed by Yarvi, the crippled protagonist of Half a King, and joins him on a journey across half the world. With them also is Brand, Thorn’s once classmate, and together set on a journey on the South Wind that will change their lives.
It is the contrast of these two characters that brought the book to life for me. Where Thorn is vicious and angry, he is calm and thoughtful, where she is fast and deadly, he is strong and dependable, where she is cynical and pissed at the world, he is well-meaning and struggling to do good in a world where there are only shades of gray. Their journey, both physical, as part of crew that rows across not one, but two rivers, encountering loads of excitement and dangers along the way, as well as mental and emotional, as they come to grips with their insecurities and fears, was a great ride.
The story itself followed a somewhat worn quest narrative, with a training montage and some rather cringe inducing awkward romance that felt really forced, thrown in for spice. The training may not be anything new, but it was well done, and it was a joy to watch Thorn transform into a deadly warrior full of murderous skills. Brand, on the other hand, has to match his mother’s dying words to “do good” with a reality that makes it not at all easy to know what the good thing even is.
Gettland is in desperate need of allies in the coming war with the High King, and father Yarvi is out seeking allies. They find some allies, and they also find enemies, and dangers, and battles written in gory, blood-dripping-from-the-pages detail in typical Joe Abercrombie style. I had my qualms when he left the world of his excellent First Law books behind to delve in to YA, but the Shattered Sea trilogy is turning out quite great. This book stands much less on its own than did Half a King, and leaves us with a huge war brewing, and I for one am quite eager for Half a War.
That’s not to say that the ending is a cliffhanger. It actually resolves a lot of stuff quite well, and the final big duel was everything I had hoped it would be, and then some. Abercrombie has a real knack for upending fantasy clichés and for writing great, believable characters in a morally ambiguous world, and I love his books for it.
Though the book features a bunch of characters from the first one, the focus is quite different. While Half a King was a story of betrayal and revenge, this is more a coming of age story, which while plenty violent, is almost cheerful in comparison to Half a King and Abercrombie’s other works.
Half the World is a thrilling ride full of adventure and scheming and action and grimdark(TM), and cringe-y relationship subplot notwithstanding, a great pair of protagonists that for a change you can root for wholeheartedly.