Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
Half the World is the middle part of a trilogy and therefore the trickiest part to get right. Interestingly, Half the World bears a few similarities to the middle book in Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, Before They Are Hanged, with the focus shifting onto world building and establishment of greater conflicts to come. Half the World is very much a book of putting things in place for the finale, but it’s still an enjoyable read nonetheless.
Half the World follows two new protagonists, with Half a King’s protagonist Yarvi remaining as a major character. Thorn Bathu is the daughter of famed warrior Storn Headland and seeks to follow in her father’s footsteps, much to the disgust of the patriarchal military society of Gettland. When she accidentally kills a young man in training after being set up to fail, she is sentenced to death. She is spared when Brand, a young man who wants nothing more than to be a proud warrior of Gettland, comes forward to Father Yarvi and tells him the truth of what occurred. Yarvi spares Thorn and brings her with him for mysterious purposes. Thorn, Brand, Yarvi and a crew of characters old and new travel half the world to seek allies, as a war is coming and Gettland can not stand alone.
First things first, the story isn’t nearly so tight in Half the World as it was in Half a King. As mentioned above, it is more about getting everything ready for the conclusion, with a plot that sometimes feels more like a series of vignettes rather than a singular narrative. That’s not to say it’s bad or unenjoyable; this stuff is really interesting from a world building perspective with Thorn and Brand going on interesting internal journeys, but this is simply one of the perils of the genre. This is a darker book than the first, and reminded me more of The First Law than Half a King did and this comes with a whole new number of incredibly satisfying and tense scenes, something Abercrombie specialises in.
The actual prose is generally a fair bit better in Half the World, with a reduction in the cliches which surface a little too much in Half a King. I’m in awe of Abercrombie’s action scenes and I’m pretty confident at this point at saying he does the best in the business. One trick I’ve been seeing him use a lot in this book is the Stephen King/George R. R. Martin esque repeating of mantras by their characters, a simple technique which works on several levels and manages to hold the thematic links of the series together.
It’s interesting that Abercrombie didn’t keep Yarvi as the point of view character, but the reasons for this become clearer as the novel progresses. Brand and Thorn are worthy successors though, with Thorn in particular shining through especially vividly. She’s not a mile away from some of Abercrombie’s other tough as nails female characters, like Murcatto or Ferro, but this is a story of how someone becomes that jaded. She does very little that’s likable but is nonetheless difficult not to like. There are some lovely familiar faces from the first book and some good new ones too, creating a cast which is no bigger than it needs to be but packed with memorable characters.
Half the World is a really good book and leaves me really looking forward to jumping into the final one. It may very much be a ‘middle’ book, but it’s one of the better executions I’ve seen. I only have one Abercrombie book left until I’ve read all of them and I must say that I will be rather sad.