I read Half a King last year and was blown away by it – see my review here – so would I enjoy Half the World as much?
Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War. Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior. She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon. Beside her on her 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?
This is the rather dramatic blurb for the story, with a couple of spoiler sentences culled. For those of you who read Half a King, featuring Yarvi, as you can see, he turns up in this book. But while a major player, he isn’t the protagonist – an unusual move in YA tales. However, Abercrombie triumphantly succeeds in immediately gaining our sympathy for Thorn, though in reality I think I’d probably cross the road rather than risk an encounter with her… Which doesn’t stop me following her story avidly, reading far too late into the wee small hours to discover what exactly happens to her.
As in the first book, the story whisks you up on the first page and doesn’t loosen its grip until the final page. The world that Thorn belongs to is more than a tad infused with a Viking influence, and Abercrombie braids the details of the world-building alongside the narrative with the same deft skill he displays throughout this book.
I also enjoyed Brand’s tale, which runs alongside Thorn. In contrast to Thorn’s gritted, angry resolve to be revenged on her father’s murderer, Brand has his dying mother’s command to do good and ‘stand in the light’ ringing in his ears. This causes him to make some difficult choices in a warrior society, where such niceties tends to get trodden underfoot.
This is one of the themes examined through the book – what constitutes courage and strength. Without being remotely moralistic, Abercrombie poses some interesting options. One of his strengths is to take a story in a particular direction, so that we think we know what’s going to happen next – and then turning our assumptions upside down to flip the storyline around. He memorably achieved this at the end of Half a King and I was delighted to see that he also managed to pull off a similar trick near the end of Half the World.
While this book is advertised as YA, I heartily recommend it to anyone who has ever enjoyed an epic fantasy tale. The protagonists may be teenagers, but this is a world where you have to grow up fast and there is very little room for some of the whining self-reflection that YA protagonists can indulge in. There are also a wealth of other entertaining characters, some we met in Half a King, which just adds to the reading pleasure offered by this solidly excellent tale. And – no – you don’t have to have read Half a King to make sense of what is going on. All in all, Half the World is every bit as good as Half a King, and I strongly recommend this series.