#36 Half A War, by Joe Abercrombie

Words are weapons
Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright.

Only half a war is fought with swords
The deep-cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head – a man who worships no god but Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil
Some – like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith – are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others – like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver – would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her iron wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness.

Spoilers for Half a King and Half the World

Half A War is the culmination of Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy.

I was quite looking forwards to it. I though Half A King was so-so, but I enjoyed Half the World, and was eager to see the climax of the series. It didn’t exactly disappoint me, but neither was I blown away.

The book follows the trend of the earlier two books of introducing new POV characters and arcs, while still continuing the same overarching plot of the trilogy. This time our protagonists are Skara, the Princess of Throvenland, her family and country ravaged by the High King, Raith, a Vansterman warrior, and Koll, apprentice to Father Yarvi.

And it is these new characters that are the problem. In my review of Half the World, I noted how well the characters of Thorn and Brand work together. Well, that’s what’s missing this time around. While I thought Skara was a good enough female lead, with her struggle to survive in a world without friend with only her wits to help her, and even Koll was fine, Raith just felt, well, fake. His transition from a standard issue bloodthirsty warrior to a milder, compassionate man felt really forced to me, even taking into account his love for Skara. And that is another whole subplot that I did not enjoy. It’s almost like it’s there just for the sake of it, because YA must have some romance. I really missed the fire that Thorn brought.

But the story itself is pretty great and kept me hooked. Watching Yarvi manipulate, bully, plot and plan his way through a huge conflict was just fun. There’s plenty of action, and Abercrombie is a great one for fight scenes. And of course, the trademark moral ambiguity, which in my opinion, makes Father Yarvi a more interesting character than any of the actual protagonists. The transition across the three books that he goes through – from earnest teen seeking revenge and freedom that you root for, to a manipulative bastard that almost sickens you but you still want to see him win – is the highlight of the trilogy for me.

Love him or hate him, Yarvi’s machinations also make for a plot full of twists and turns, some that I anticipated, some that were mildly surprising and one at the end that was really surprising. Between the plotting and the fighting, there’s rarely a dull moment from the first page to the last. Although, I thought that the rebels have a relatively easy time of it after the halfway or so mark, which made for a rather predictable ending. I was really looking forward to a nail-biting finish, like the Thorn vs. Grom-gil-Gorm duel at the end of Half the World. 

As for the writing, I oscillated between enjoying the banter and the grim humor between the characters and thinking “who talks like that!”. Because everyone seems to respond in quips and sayings all the time. But I did enjoy the grim and ominous way that Skifr always speaks. She’s one of the better characters in the series. I just wish all these really interesting people – Skifr, Yarvi, Thorn – had gotten more screen time.

All in all, the book does a pretty decent job of wrapping up the trilogy. The story was fun, the action and the twists and the moral ambiguity good as ever, but the characters were lacking this time around, not to mention the unnecessary romance. And the climax wasn’t climactic enough for my taste. It’s good, but Half the World was better.

My Rating : 3.25/5


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