Review: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
Series: Shattered Sea #3
Also by this author: Half a King
Published by Del Rey on July 28th 2015
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
Also in this series: Half a King
"New York Times "bestselling author Joe Abercrombie delivers the stunning conclusion to the epic fantasy trilogy that began with "Half a King, "praised by George R. R. Martin as "a fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page 1 and refused to let go." "Words are weapons." Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. If she is to reclaim her birthright, she must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge. "Only half a war is fought with swords." The deeply cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king's minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head--a man who worships only Death. "Sometimes one must fight evil with evil." Some--like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith--are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others--like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver--would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her irons wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness. Praise for Joe Abercrombie's "Half a King" "A fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page 1 and refused to let go."--George R. R. Martin "Tremendously entertaining . . . lightning-fast and filled with a wonderful collection of rogues, villains and two-faced bastards . . . From the first chapter [Abercrombie] wastes no time as the reader is swept up in a gripping tale of betrayal and revenge."--"SciFi Now" "Once this plot has its teeth in you, it will not let go. . . . Abercrombie's masterly storytelling means that everything, from the characters you come to love and despise to the sprawling world that is explored, is enthralling."--"Fantasy Book Review" "Half the World"" " "An excellent page-turner . . . full of drama and energy."--New York "Daily News"" " "Another entertaining burst of battle, magic and political machinations from the always reliable Joe Abercrombie . . . a thoroughgoing blast, a violent, beautiful rabbit hole of craft that is well worth disappearing into.""--Shelf Awareness" "Compelling . . . [Thorn] makes Katniss Everdeen look like Dorothy Gale."--"Chicago Tribune"
Half a War is certainly a good conclusion to the Shattered Sea series. The larger story arc that spans all three books come to an intriguing ending. We also get characters and stories unique to this book. I think it is an interesting way this trilogy was done. Each book focuses on a different set of characters and their individual stories, while the bigger picture story is told through out. It brings fresh perspectives (and characters) to each book, as well as keeping in touch with many of the familiar ones.
King Uthil and Grom-gil-Gorm are in open rebellion against the high king. Yarvi and his apprentice Koll are helping to steer the tides of war. Koll becomes one of our POVs for Half a War. He’s conflicted between two obligations, of which he needs to choose and commit to one. Life as a minister, where he can help shape the world and influence kings. Or, a life with the girl he loves.
We are introduced to another strong female POV in this book. While Thorn asserted her strength in a physical way, Skara’s strength is in her wits and wisdom (which seem well beyond her young years). Skara is faced with a sudden tragedy, complete upheaval of her life. She is initially a victim and some see her as weak. But she possesses an unbelievable drive to rectify not just her situation, but that of all the people in her Throvenland. It’s a huge responsibility, one that she was raised to handle well, but one she was not expecting to undertake any year soon. I really enjoyed Skara’s character, I loved seeing her come into her own and quickly mastering the politics she needed to survive. I did wonder a bit about Skara always being the voice of reason amongst the seasoned adults, kings and ministers. What was wrong with all the other adults that they were consistently out thought by a 17 year old girl? Oh well, I still liked her. 🙂
The last new POV is Raith. Sword bearer to Grom-gil-Gorm. One of the few characters that seems to thrive on violence and war. He is an angry person, but I really liked his character. We get to know and understand him, we see how he was raised and trained to be that angry person. And we see him start to evolve.
The book also has a couple of story lines focusing on revenge, or vengeance.
“Every hero is someone’s villain”
This is always an interesting, and a very true, take on things. I love when books explore the idea of heroes also being villains (and villains also being someone’s hero) because it brings definite shades of grey to a character and their actions. When we understand their motives, and we feel some connection to a character, we may still root for them even when they must take actions that we wouldn’t normally be supportive of. But at the same time, if we understand a bit of the ‘enemy’ or any victims along the way are humanized, then nothing can be seen as black and white (good or evil). But this makes me wonder, is every villain someone’s hero? Can a person take trying to be a hero too far, making themselves, in truth, a villain to just about any perspective? Does the cost of making oneself a hero in war always make you villain in some eyes. Yes, I think that is likely true. I enjoyed the exploration of this in the the series but I will say, the “bad guy” Bright Yilling” just seems evil. Honestly, in some ways he reads more like a caricature than any character I have previously seen in Abercrombie’s works. But he serves his purpose.
Alongside that theme, there is also the exploration of the “greater good”. Calculating beneficial sacrifices to try and lesson something worse, less desirable. Sometimes the sacrifice can’t compete with the benefit. Other times, it is harder to judge.
This next bit is definite spoiler territory. Please don’t read unless you like to spoil books for yourself, or you have already read it. I normally don’t like to put spoilers in my reviews, but really wanted to post my thoughts on this and absolutely could not do it without spoiling things.
View Spoiler » In the first book of the trilogy, I really couldn’t help but love and root for Yarvi. The second book, he was barely there, but you knew he was pulling the strings. But in this book, while he is still not one of the main characters, he is definitely central to much of what is going on. I do enjoy seeing characters evolve, and I also love when I see characters switch from the roles between hero and villain (gross generalization here, I know. The difference between a villain and hero is often dependent on who is telling the story ). But what I have a harder time with is when I don’t fully understand why. Yarvi shows quite a harsh side here, he was behind so many tragic events and seems to show no remorse about it. By the end, he reminded me of Bayaz, maybe even worse, tbh. Even if his intentions were good, the cost he was willing to pay (or rather, make others pay), just seemed outrageous. When did he get to be so cold hearted? It’s not so much that he became this way, it’s that I didn’t feel like I saw his transition or even understood it. I know he was motivate
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Elf magic also becomes a critical part of this story. It is almost too convenient, but at the same time, with the strong parallel between humans elves, it is not hard to sit back and judge the power and destruction we are capable of. I think the ease of the elf magic may be taking a closer look at the responsibility we should have to not abuse the technology we possess. I never felt this book was trying to take some preachy stance about social obligation. But I do think there is something there for those readers that choose to see. Maybe this is not even intentional on the authors part, perhaps I am reading messages that are not meant to be there.
There are heart wrenching moments of terrible tragedy, vengeance, great characters with many shades of grey, all the things I love about Abercrombie’s books. Definitely recommend.