Or why you should read Half The World
by Joe Abercrombie
Half The World is the second novel in the Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie. The novel takes place following the events of Half A King. In the novel Thorn, a young woman touched by Mother War dreams of being a warrior to honour and avenge her father, a hero killed in combat. She wants this more than anything, enough to brave the practice square and the indignities and petty cruelty of her male trainees. That is, until a she kills a boy in a training accident and is branded a murderer. Brand, a young man who considers himself a good person, also dreams of being a warrior. He dreams of being a warrior to do right by his sister, escape poverty, and to find the camaraderie and family he's always wanted. Except when he sees the injustice done to Thorn he has to say something, a decision that derails his plans. Now the pair find themselves swept up in the plans of Father Yarvi, the deep-cunning Minister and royal advisor, as he travels the world seeking allies against the tyrant High King. Thorn and Brand must decide if they are pawns or heroes and must discover out just how far they can trust a deep-cunning man.
Half The World is kind of perfect. While I thought it's predecessor Half A King was a perfectly enjoyable read, it suffered a bit by being too straight forward and familiar. Half The World, perhaps freed from the heavy lifting of world building, manages to be a much deeper novel. While still a very direct read, and one simplified a bit for a younger reader, it still manages to deliver a surprisingly nuanced story filled with remarkably deep and memorable characters in a complex and challenging world. As a lighter, taught Fantasy novel Half The World was a really enjoyable page turner. As a work of Young Adult Fiction, Half The World with its morally complex world, adult perspective on sexuality and violence, and nuanced touch on diversity is pretty incredible. This is a book made with teens in mind that still manages to deliver a fairly grown up story.
In a lot of ways Half The World feels like a response to criticism. Some of Abercrombie's earlier novels have been criticized for their lacklustre or problematic portrayal of women and relentless grim-darkness. Some of the key characters in Half The World seem a little like a second look at archetypes that didn't get the fairest shake in earlier novels: the sister left behind, the young warrior interested in doing good, and the prickly, violent woman out for revenge all return in this book and get a different look. As someone who still has feels about some of the darker moments in Abercrombie's novels, it is pretty refreshing to see this response to criticism. These same choices also go a considerable way into making Half The World the kind of YA Fantasy fiction avoids a lot of the sexist pratfalls that beset many of my own youthful favourites.
I would recommend Half The World to just about anyone. As an adult reader and occasional Fantasy fan, I had trouble putting the book down and thoroughly enjoyed myself. By the time this post is published, I'll also be a parent of some sex-to-be-determined child. (INSERT UPDATE) Which has really gotten me thinking about the kinds of stories I want to share with my kid. Half The World is the kind of novel that I would have loved as a younger reader and is also, due to its nuanced portrayal of adult themes and empathetic portrayal of people, the kind of novel that I hope my kid is exposed to when they are old enough to appreciate it. I'll be handing this book to my kid in 13 or 14 years and I can't think of a higher recommendation for this kind of book. You and your younger readers should read it.
Post by Michael Bround
Half A King
The First Law, Best Served Cold, The Heroes