Half a War, by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review

Shattered Sea, Joe Abercrombie, Half a War, Half the World, Half a King

It has come. The final novel of the Shattered Sea trilogy is here. A tale of oaths, lies, war and love has reached its explosive end. We have been through Yarvi’s toils in Half a King, seen war brew and love blossom with Thorn and Brand in Half the World, and now we see Half a War through the eyes of a young, anxious, but fiery queen; a truculent warmonger whose starting to feel the weight of his regrets; and an aspiring minister with a torturous dilemma. But how did they do narrating the end of the Shattered Sea trilogy?

We have in this new novel Joe Abercrombie’s iconic, gritty characters, old and new to the Shattered Sea trilogy. We also have a new set of point of view characters, and from their eyes we can observe the characters we already know well in a different light. When reading through Half a War, we can guess what our old favourites in Yarvi and Thorn are thinking and going to do because we know them so well, not because we know what they are thinking through the narrative. How we felt reading the old POVs seems to reflect in what we see from the eyes of the new POVs. It’s a writing mechanism that seems to promote character growth without having to force it.

Another positive is the direct story. Similar to the previous two novels, every page seems to be action, building to action, or the climax to action. And every chapter feels like an ardent stride towards the denouement. The dialogue throughout is witty, and we learn a lot about the other characters, the world, the history, the faith, not from extensive exposition, but from brief, natural exchanges.

I do believe, though, that Half a War is a slightly inferior novel to Half a King and Half the World. It is by no means disappointing, but the three POV characters did not grip me as the previous had. Skara was perhaps the best: a young and nervous queen who had lost all to an enemy we don’t quite see enough to genuinely fear, Bright Yilling – who is working for the High King and Grandmother Wexen. Skara is a good character, very likable, and presents a good narrative of the half of the war that is won with words. But she is no Yarvi, and her relationship with other POV character Raith doesn’t bear the same spark we found with Thorn and Brand.

Koll is an alright character – I found I wasn’t too concerned over his dilemma between career and love as I was never emotionally invested in his relationship. But he provided an excellent narrative of our number one character, Yarvi, whose quick tongue and sharp mind have always dictated the cornerstone events of this fantasy trilogy. His quest for the greater good has found him wending along the scales of morality, and it is fantastic seeing the climax of his grand puppetry from the eyes of his young apprentice.

Skara, Raith and Koll would be fine characters in a normal fantasy, but it was always going to be hard for them to live up to Yarvi, Thorn and Brand – some of the great characters of modern fantasy. Their individual subplots may be lacking, but they still flare Joe Abercrombie’s sensational ability; the way he presents a character and shows them develop naturally into a changed person (in what are not long books) is the feat of a master writer. And these three characters still do well telling the story of Half a War, and give us an outside look at the past characters we’ve loved throughout the Shattered Sea trilogy. A few minor hiccups in this last instalment does not take away from the fact that this has been an exceptional fantasy series.

Thank you, Joe Abercrombie, for an amazing journey.

By D. C. Ward.

Thanks for reading our review of Half a War by Joe Abercrombie. If you haven’t yet begun the Shattered Sea trilogy, you can find our reviews of Half a King and Half the World right here. If you’re looking for a new fantasy novel, then try our reviews of some other fantasy books here. You can even check out Sentient Ink’s own original fantasy stories. We have an ongoing serial, The Demons’ Cry, a short story, The Yesterday Key, and a few short pieces of fantasy prose, Footsteps and The Vox.

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