Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
Well, I devoured that trilogy pretty quickly! Half a War is the final installment in the Shattered Sea series and wraps up the story nicely, if without too many major surprises. After truly loving the first book, Half a King, neither of the sequels quite grabbed me the same way, but I’ve enjoyed this series a whole lot regardless.
Half a War concludes the conflict begun in Half the World, with ancient foes Gettland and Vansterland now united to take down the High King and Grandmother Wexen. Trapped in the middle is Throvenland, which is betrayed by Grandmother Wexen and torn asunder by the famed warrior Bright Yilling, leaving the young Princess Skara to flee to Gettland to regroup and rebuild her home. Meanwhile, Koll, last seen as a child in Half the World, is training with Father Yarvi to become a minister, but feels trapped between two worlds. Raith is a shield bearer and manservant to Grom-Gil-Gorm, King of Vansterland and loves nothing more than violence and death, but when he is assigned to guard the newly risen Princess Skara he begins to adjust his priorities. The conflict between these mighty nations shakes the Shattered Sea, but the motivation which underpins it is much more personal.
Half a War has some outstanding moments, moments which build upon truths about this world hinted at since Half a King. The increased scale comes at the cost of characterisation, with the larger conflict not distinguishing itself particularly from other epic fantasy battles seen elsewhere. Half a War winds up feeling a little rushed and I must admit that I missed the intimate crews seen in Half a King and Half the World; they were possibly the greatest pleasure in those books. The quality of actual prose has not dipped at all however with Abercrombie once again balancing action, humour and pathos pretty much perfectly.
Although I missed Yarvi is Half the World, Thorn and Brand were worthy replacements as protagonists. I’m not sure if Skara, Raith and Koll are as successful. Skara is a strong figure, but her struggle towards royalty and respect never feels as visceral as Yarvi’s. Koll’s rejection of violence and inherent gentleness never quite felt as profound as Brand’s. Raith’s transformation is the most intriguing, but he is too close to Thorn Bathu to feel too interesting. I’m sure these parallels are intentional, but I wound up simply more interested in seeing the old characters, rather than embracing the new as I felt able to do in Half the World. Yarvi is the impetus behind the entire series and although he is only the protagonist of the first, he remains probably the most interesting character, up there with Abercrombie’s best.
Half a War doesn’t hold many surprises, but it’s a solid end to a good series. I’m looking forward to Abercrombie’s return to the First Law world, but I’m all in now. There aren’t many authors where I’ll pick up every single book they write, but Abercrombie is one of them.