Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Half the World picks up two years after the events of Half a King. Where the first book was told from the first person perspective of Yarvi, here we have alternating perspectives between two new characters, Thorn and Brand. Our new narrators are young outcasts both training to join Gettland’s army as it prepares for raids against its increasingly aggressive neighbors. Thorn, a young woman, has been touched by Mother War and is an aggressive fighter with few friends. Brand, a physically dominating young man, is a promising soldier touched my Father Peace who prizes justice over conquest. Their journey reunites us with Yarvi and several other familiar characters on a mission to find allies for Gettland for the coming war against the High King.
Joe Abercrombie is a great storyteller. He is more reserved in his literary flourishes then some of his contemporaries, but displays impeccable character development and pacing. He understands the rhythm of the reader and delivers character and humor with seeming ease.
The old woman scraped a spatter of fresh bird-dropping from a post, tested its texture with her thumb, smelled it closely, seemed on the point of tasting it, then decided against and wiped the mess on her ragged cloak.
“Inauspicious,” she grunted.
Unfortunately this character introduction brings me to one of my criticisms in the author’s worldbuilding. The character in the passage above is named Skifr. We also have another character named Safrit and the two are in close proximity for the majority of the book. As different as the two names sound they are annoyingly close in structure and break the rhythm of reading for disambiguation. Yarvi’s father and uncles’ names are similarly vexing, but that is more understandable. Skifr and Safrit are from entirely different cultures and have nothing in common.
While his character naming struggles, his character building is superb. Like Yarvi in the first book, Abercrombie hones Thorn and Brand through the actions we witness. They earn their skills, friendships and scars, and each builds upon the previous into a person we identify with, root for and fear for, and with good reason – the action is, as you would expect from Joe Abercrombie, kinetic and violent. These deadly stakes are offset by subtler moments created by the author’s incredible patience to reference lines hundreds of pages or even books apart; which while impactful in their immediate context, are amplified when reunited in the readers mind. One beautiful example is when Brand and his sister Rin individually reminisce about their mother, each admitting that they have no direct memories, but their sibling does. Both scenes resonate with additional meaning by Abercrombie’s faith in the reader to recall and interweave these moments.
Half the World is thrilling, heart-felt, satisfying and highly recommended.
Half the World will be available for sale on February 17th, 2015 from Del Rey. I received an uncorrected proof version of this book through a Goodread’s “First Reads” giveaway. You can read my review of the first book in the series here.
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