Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
(Book 2 of the Shattered Sea trilogy)
Harper Voyager, 484pp standard hardback, £12.99 cover price
£1.99 on Kindle (Jan 2016)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
Internationally recognised as a standard bearer for so-called ‘grimdark fiction’ Joe Abercrombie needs no introduction, and Half The World is the next instalment of his YA-fab Shattered Sea series.
This time round the young Prince Yarvi from the first book has grown to become a cunning minister, and Father Yarvi (as he is now known) sees in the vengeful warrior girl Thorn, a young lady who will grow to become integral to his cause, that of uniting half the world to ensure an uneasy peace remains between the ruthless High King and the rest of the land. Thorn herself is a great character, and as we follow her journey from young, wild, and impulsive warrior to learned, wise and battle-hardened war machine, we quickly become embroiled in the rest of the plot and characters — a motley crew indeed. There’s Brand, her former childhood friend and ally with many issues of his own, but when push comes to shove really just wants to ‘do the right thing’; Skifr, the witch-warrior cum mentor and tutor, a great character and one kickass bitch of a teacher, but evidently does a progressively excellent job with Thorn; as well as a whole raft of walk-ons, including the scoundrel Combat Master Hunnan, the aging war veteran Rulf, lovable rogue Olla, and of course, the evil nemesis, Grom-il-Gorm, Breaker of Swords, who just happens to be the person who killed Thorn’s father all those years ago… Oh yes, and let’s not forget the ethereal arms of Father Peace and Mother War, both of whom pay regular visits throughout — well, okay, Mother War appears lots, but anyway…
To be fair, there’s nothing overly complicated or singularly unique or marvellous here, and yes indeedy two plus two does end up as four, so the cynic might well argue it’s a familiar tale told well and perhaps suspiciously similar to the first in plot and pace — or even a watered down version of one of my own fave Abercrombie books, Best Served Cold — but that’s just it… it’s all told in the author’s inimitably impressive voice, and so much the better for it…
I’ve heard a few naysayers grumble about the fact that this is diluted, clean (let’s not go as far as calling it sanitised), designed for a younger audience, written as YA, etc. blah-di-blah-di-blah, but I can’t help feeling these people are missing the point — this is a bloody good tale, well written, told with bite, and remarkably easy to read. Topping all of the above, it’s entertaining: fun, uncomplicated, and I guess, ‘mostly harmless’; maybe nowadays that’s not always good enough, but I personally found it a pleasant way to lose a few hours, no doubt helped immeasurably by the style and tone. Of course if you’re not already a fan of Joe’s writing, you may find your time and money better spent elsewhere, but I’m looking forward to reading the next one, and that’s usually the sign of a job well done (for me, at least). Roll on Half a War, I say, but let’s not do things by halves next time round, eh?
* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society (BFS) website here