**WARNING — THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!**
Joe Abercrombie is a terrific writer!
Half the World is Abercrombie’s second book in his Shattered Sea series, and while you’ll want to read the first book (Half a King [see review here]) you don’t really have to in order to enjoy this book.
The first book followed Prince Yarvi on his journey and rise to power. In Half the World, Yarvi, now an established king, is still looking for ways other than fighting but is smart enough to know that he needs fighters. Training takes place for the young ones who hope someday to be offered a position with the king’s guard. This story focuses primarily on the powerful Brand who should have no problem being with the guard, and the girl Thorn, who takes on three boys in a training exercise. The master of the exercise, Hunnan, clearly has a bias against girls training, even though Thorn is far and away the better fighter. So when Thorn accidentally kills one of the three, Hunnan declares her a murderer and her punishment is to be crushed to death by rocks.
But Brand is governed by a moral code to always try to do what is right and he reports that Thorn was given an unfair challenge and that the death was an accident. His actions save Thorn’s life, but when Hunnan hands out assignments for those graduating from his training, Brand is left with nothing from the vindictive Hunnan.
While things seem bleak for both Thorn and Brand, they wind up together as mercenaries, working for Father Yarvi. Brand and Thorn both manage incredible feats of power and/or prowess and have songs created about them.
Thorn seems born to fight and becomes the Queen’s “Chosen Shield” – a personal body-guard. Brand still looks for his place in the world. Someone who is always looking to do what’s right does not make a good soldier.
Abercrombie writes action sequences as well as anyone writing today and this book has plenty of action. But he also writes about people who seem very real. After reading this,I feel as though I could count Brand and Thorn as friends – I know as much about them – and more importantly, CARE about them – as I do most friends. We want to see them succeed and we hold our breath when they are in trouble. And because we care about the characters, we are drawn in to the story.
As I wrote about Half a King, Abercrombie tends to know just how much to push his characters and still make them believable. We know why we are following this story … these characters are remarkable, above-average, but still real.
But this story had a down-side for me. As real as it was, and as fantastic as Thorn is, Abercrombie has a choice to make: keep her a strong young woman who fights against the odds at every turn, or make her something special but still someone who falls into the ‘girl’ trap … wishing she were pretty and good at ‘women’s work.’ Near the end of the book Abercrombie chooses the latter path. After all she’s done, after all she’s become, she still takes a moment to bemoan the fact that her talents have meant she can’t really be a good wife.
Really? You’ve just created an awesome kick-ass female character the likes that haven’t been seen since Robert E. Howard/Marvel’s Red Sonja … someone who could get teen girls excited about reading sword and sorcery fantasy … and you make sure to remind girls what they should desire to be? I get that we’re talking/writing about a time/age when women were supposed to want or aspire to certain things, but this was a chance to rise above the pedantic and Abercrombie took the easy way out. It’s the only time I’ve seen this from this writer (in my limited reading of his work) which is part of the reason it stuck out so much.
Looking for a good book? Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World is is a tremendous adventure, with characters we believe in and a story full of action and power. This is a book and a writer you will want to read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Half the World
author: Joe Abercrombie
series: Shattered Sea #2
publisher: Del Rey
hardcover, 366 pages