What makes Half a War a fantastic read is how often Abercrombie subverts your expectations.
'A warriors place is at Death's side' said Raith as he stood. 'So he can introduce her to his enemies.'
Half a War is the conclusive third book in Joe Abercrombie's Shattered Sea saga. It follows on smoothly from the events at the conclusion of Half a World and we find ourselves witness to the politics and events surrounding a very shaky alliance of nations. These nations of once bitter enemies being Vansterland ruled by The Breaker of Swords and neighbouring Gettland whose monarch is The Iron King. (You don't get nicknames like those anymore, especially not in the West Midlands...) Their association is only held as it is at this time due to the imminent war with The High King with his gathered support of the majority of the world's military.
Although all the colourful characters from the prior two books who we have grown to love, respect, doubt and not trust amongst other emotions are present here, the novel mainly follows two new editions to the narrative. The first of these new players is the young self-doubting Princess Skara from Throvenland who is ill-prepared for the brutality of this world and the war which threatens her homeland. The second is Raith, Vansterland's ruler's swordbearer whose traits are that he is a violence-loving, war hungry, emotionless brute. We closely follow their journeys and the way that they changed and grew during the book's progression, whilst evaluating where their place in this world was and what they aspired to be. It is intriguing to see how their decisions cause ripples throughout the story as they change their, and others ultimate destinies. These two characters do cross each other's paths throughout the book and it is really intriguing how they interact yet I will not say anymore regarding that point as I do not wish to spoil the story.
This trilogy is not as complicated as a large amount of modern fantasy. Abercrombie does not feel the tale would be enhanced with advising us about fourteen thousand years of history and in addition, unlike some tales from this genre, the God's and their attributes are easy to follow in the simplistic and self-explanatory nature of their names. Mother Sun, Father Earth, Mother War etc... These factors make me believe that a younger audience would appreciate what is printed here, more so than some of the "Swords and Sorcery" books that are out there. Hell, we even have a couple of love stories in the mix for good measure.
One of the main concepts in this story is that only half a war is won with swords. There are a wealth of individuals who support this side of the war spectrum including Bright Yilling and Thorn Bathu. The other side is more focused on what can be achieved and won with the mind as seen by the cunningness of Father Yarvi and Koll amongst others. It may be that both sides will be just as influential in the unfolding of the events.
There are twists and turns aplenty to look forward to as well which come across with such high impact because we only follow one side of the warring factions point of views and therefore have no idea what the other alliance are plotting or doing at any time apart from rumours, hearsay and the messages delivered from other nations by birds.
We are blessed with everything you could wish for from a fantastic fantasy finale including epic warrior showdowns, betrayals, sieges, love ones lost, battles on the bow of ships and a surprising ending. The saga is wrapped up nicely and is fulfilling to those who have dedicated numerous hours into this world. It is anything but predictable. It also seems like Abercrombie could return to write future novels in this universe should he wish going forwards.
The only real gripe I had is minor and that is the fact that characters seemed to traverse the landscape of this world ridiculously fast so they appear at the next important plot point conveniently. In previous books, these journeys would have taken much longer than the time that passes on the occasions here.
I think I will pick up The Blade Itself next and just see how different the worlds are.
James Tivendale, 8.4/10
Half a War is the third and final book of Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, and it has certainly been a rollercoaster of a ride.
There is no denying Abercrombie’s panache for storytelling, everything from the world he has created to the characters you encounter are fully fleshed out and a real joy to read about. The development arcs that the major characters experience throughout the three books really make you care about the characters - it hurts when bad things happen to them, and when they choose to do bad things. Part of what made this such a joy is that sometimes good characters did bad things, and characters that were inherently bad could also do quite noble things.
With Half a War we get another three new points of view that the story is told from, which is both annoying (as you leave behind the thoughts of the characters of the previous novel), but also fascinating as you encounter whole new ways of looking at situations.
What makes Half a War a fantastic read is how often Abercrombie subverts your expectations. You think you know where the story is heading, and suddenly it’ll all get turned on its head. It’s this that keeps you hooked throughout, never knowing where the story might go.
I must voice slight disappointment with the ending which, for me, was more of a rushed fizzle than a bang after three books of build-up. Considering how central Grandmother Wexen and the High King were throughout the entire series, I was excited for the big event that everything had been leading up to, and ultimately felt a bit cheated by the result. My overall score for this book (8/10) is heavily based on the ending, but the book as a whole did feel weaker than the previous two.
If you enjoy fantasy, and have read Abercrombie’s other novels, this is definitely a trilogy that I’d recommend checking out. And don’t let the YA label put you off.
Jo Fitzpatrick, 8/10
In 2002 Joe Abercrombie began the writing of a fantasy trilogy based around the adventures of Logan Ninefingers. The First Law trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings) has since been publi [...]
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