“He hesitated just an instant, but long enough for Thorn to club him in the balls with the rim of her shield.”
Joe Abercrombie‘s Half the World picks up a year or two-ish after the epic events of Half a King left off, with a new set of central characters to get manipulated through the affairs of kings and deep-cunning Ministers like our former hero, Yarvi. This time we follow Brand, a young man denied his hero’s place because of his earnest need to stand in the light, and Thorn, a young woman denied her hero’s place because, well, she’s a woman. Because the two are excluded from their chosen paths they fall into the clutches of Yarvi, who decides to slop them onto a crew set to sail around half the world in order to find allies for their enemy besieged country.
I really enjoyed the first in the Shattered Sea trilogy or whatever, but I REALLY REALLY adored Half the World. It’s nuanced, with muddied morality and a complex plot that supports the development of a robust cast of characters. And, what can I say, I’ve always been a sucker for warrior women. Despite my soft spot for bad bitches, Thorn can be a tough character to actually like; she’s surly, she likes to play the violin in her one-woman pity party, and she’s about as dense as brick wall, but despite all these shortcomings I couldn’t help but love her and the way in which she grows as a character. I mean, how can I not love her transformation from a girl trying really hard to play a man’s game to a woman trained to be lethal by pissing all over the rules to said game? In a way the conflict between her training to be a shield in a raiding party vs. actually knowing how to fight and kill in any and all situations all by her lonesome (thanks to the tutelage of the coolest badass grandma of all time) read like a comparison between the rigidity of traditional patriarchal systems versus the fluidity of, let’s say a more radical approach to life. She learns to diversify her tactics and pretty soon she’s the baddest ass in the entire god damn world and it’s sweet as hell.
And of course, there’s romance, and it’s slow burn and it’s wonderful, but it also got me thinking. The growing attraction and romance between our two protagonists is a central focus of the novel, but because Joe Abercrombie is, quite obviously, a dude, Half the World still has a dignified cover free of all the flowery “girlishness” that blights the covers of so many books by female authors, regardless of the subject matter. So, what the hell, publishing industry? A male author can write a fantasy novel with a good amount of time dedicated to the blossoming of romance and blushing and shit and still have a cover that consists of a cresting wave made of weapons, but if a woman writes the same thing it has foil and purple and a silhouetted girl with flowing hair (I’m speaking in generics, here)? If you want to read more about this issue, check out this post by Maureen Johnson who goes off far more eloquently than I.
Bottom line, this is a badass follow-up to Half a King, one that I enjoyed more than the first, a rare enough occurrence. Abercrombie is pretty adept at folding layers of intricacy into what, at first glance, seems to be a pretty straight-forward tale, and the result is a much richer second helping in the world of the Shattered Sea. I can’t wait for the next installment.
For music, because this is viking fantasy I think I need to do some Bathory in their more epic period, so let’s do “Shores in Flames.”