Review: Half the World (Shattered Sea #2) – Joe Abercrombie

half the worldSometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.

Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.

Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior.

She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh lessons of blood and deceit.

Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon.

Beside her on the journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption.

And weapons are made for one purpose.

Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?

Rating: 5/5

Utterly worthy sequel. This book deserves to be on the list of YA fantasy staples alongside Kristen Cashore, Megan Whaler Turner, Cinda Williams Chima and the like. Seriously, it’s that good.

I am really impressed with the depiction of female characters by Mr Abercrombie. We have Thorne, a hardass, kickass woman warrior-in-training. But she’s stubborn as all hell, she can be incredibly mean, she’s hurt when her feelings are seemingly unrequited, she’s insecure about how she looks in terms of being someone’s romantic partner. In short, she’s a nuanced character, not always likeable, but ambitious, loyal, and determined to prove herself.

We also have Queen Laithlin as a contrast – a woman whose power comes from a completely difference place compared to Thorne – instead of physical fighting power, she controls through manipulation, intelligence and sheer skill for generating treasury funds, politics and diplomacy. There are other “strong” women in the book, demonstrating different depictions of strength – Rin, with her skills with steel and forgery who builds a new life for herself; Mother Scaer, who viciously controls a country with soft power; the young empress, who has been kept sheltered/imprisoned from her people but is determined to reshape her kingdom; Sumael, who makes a welcome reappearance (YAY! YARVI & SUMAEL FOREVS OKAY!) and is now a prolific advisor; Safrit, who runs a ship filled with men like it’s nobody’s business; and Skifr, who is an utter enigma and hones Thorn’s skills until she is near unbeatable.

What’s more, I liked that these female characters didn’t exist in isolation – the mentorship of Skifr and later Laithlin to Thorne, the friendship that ultimately develops between Rin and Thorne, how Safrit cares and mothers Thorne, etc.

The other strong aspect of the author’s work that I really love is his nuanced and intelligent view of political machinations, war, and the greater good. The constant push and pull between Father Peace and Mother War. While deep down we know Yarvi might have a good heart, this cannot factor into his decisions to keep his kingdom from the bring of war. It’s unpleasant at times, thought provoking, and reminds me somewhat of Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles in that way, which is the highest praise I can give.

Half the World also had a smidgen more romance than its predecessor. Brand is such a lovely character. He may not be the sharpest and most cunning specimen, but he’s no fool. One might describe him as a gentle giant, but there are times when his anger and violence comes to the fore (especially when Thorne is in danger.) He’s humble, he’s conflicted, he’s concerned with doing good for the here and the now, in contrast with Yarvi. In essence, though he is not perfect, he is a good man.

In short, I am so glad I discovered this series thanks to raving reviews from my fellow bloggers. A lot of YA fantasy tends to be fantasy-lite, with a couple of magical elements thrown in for good measure and the shallowest of world building, which is where they ultimately fall down for me. But the Shattered Sea series manages to retain its YA aura without compromising on the fantasy elements, leading to a wonderfully imaginative, in-depth reading experience.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Half the World (Shattered Sea #2) – Joe Abercrombie

  1. I’m so happy to see that you’ve given this series a chance, Hannah! IT’s one of those YA Fantasies that are done really, really well – deep, profound, complex, with a cast of characters that have a lot of layers underneath. I can’t wait to read the next one next year!!! Things will be really be intense now that they’re preparing for the inevitable. Did you feel the intensity when Thorne was fighting that dude near the end? Man, that was awesome.

    Faye at The Social Potato

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    1. Your review for Half the World was what got me into the series, so I have you to thank/blame, haha. It’s definitely one of the better YA fantasies out there – and as I mentioned, should absolutely be on the best-of lists for the genre. Things have gotten rather intense, but I trust the author to wrap things up in a way that hopefully don’t completely crush my soul. Very interested to see where he takes it! And oh my, my heart was pounding during that fight. I like that he didn’t make her invincible though.

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