“We have lost,” said King Finn, staring into his ale.
And with that heavy-ass beginning we are brought into the not-so-chipper world of the Shattered Sea. Joe Abercrombie’s Half a War is the third and final (I think?) volume of his YA debut Shattered Sea trilogy…series…thing. Familiar characters are joined by new as the world-spanning conflict between the many countries in the Shattered Sea intensifies into all-out war. Alliances are forged and broken, relationships tested, oaths sworn and friendships betrayed. In other words, it’s a typical Joe Abercrombie book.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea books have been among my favorite YA fantasies in recent years, but they are still solid enough for me to have finished the entire trilogy, something I only accomplish roughly fifty-percent of the time. The complex plots are peopled by equally complex characters with equally equally complex relationships; the characters undergo (for the most part) believable development arcs, and while the body count is quite as large and dismaying as in Game of Thrones, there’s still a similar sense of expecting the unexpected when opening one of these books. Add to the tight plotting an elegant voice that evokes the lyricism of epic poems in the oral tradition, and you’ve got a solid as hell reading experience, except for one MAJOR thing, at least for me.
SPOILER ALERT. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF, YOU KNOW, YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.
One of the reasons I read this book when I did is because I was in Iceland and it seemed appropriate to read a fantasy that reads a bit like a viking world while in the land of actual vikings. It’s magical but not too magical and had a super sweet and novel-feeling religious system. So I was really thrown when Abercrombie laid out some heavy hints that this is actually Earth like, thousands of years after the apocalypse. The elves were actually humans, the elf ruins were actually ruins after a nuclear disaster, and the elf-weapons and elf-sticks are guns and bombs. WHAT? Where in the actual shit did that come from? Normally I don’t mind a well-crafted surprise; in fact, such a device can make a book one skrillion times better, but in this case it sucked all the magic out of the narrative, quite literally. Because that’s what it did. It turned a fantasy into some sort of half-assed speculative fiction with no explanation. It added absolutely NOTHING to the story, and actually took a bit of a dump on my entire reading experience. Instead of a fantasy with actual magic I was reading a primitive civilization story and realizing that all the magical world building and folklore was actually the religious system our far-future ancestors put together to explain a nuclear holocaust. I dunno, maybe you’ll think it’s cool and adds a brainy “wow!” factor to it, but it made me frown 🙁
So, overall: eh? I think I gave it three stars on Goodreads. It was really fun and satisfying until suddenly it wasn’t. What a bummer.