Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
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.
Half a War by Joe Abercrombie is the concluding volume in the Shattered Sea trilogy, and what a conclusion it is! This review will contain spoilers for the previous two volumes in the series if you haven’t read them yet, so consider yourself warned.
Joe Abercrombie has written a great series in the Shattered Sea trilogy, and while Half a War is a very good book, the series as a whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. While characters continue from book to book, the focus shifts to a new character in each book. Half a King introduces Yarvi, Half a World introduces Brand and Thorn Bathu (love her!), and Half a War introduces us to Princess Skara. Each of these characters makes a journey from the beginning of the book to the end, at least spiritually, but it is Yarvi who takes the greatest journey from the beginning of the series to the end.
Yarvi was always wise and “a deep cunning man”, yet the events in the first book removed whatever naivety remained and set him on a course of vengeance that isn’t complete until the final pages of the last book. The magnitude of his actions and their consequences hits him and you like a load of bricks. Even a deep cunning man cannot foresee every twist and turn of a complicated plan.
Half a War brings to fruition the conflict with Grandmother Wexen and the High King. Villain Bright Yilling is chillingly ruthless and frighteningly confident making him a fitting counterpoint for the coming of age Princess Skara, who balances her own cunning with a desire to do good and protect her people. The only character I really didn’t care for in this book, and the series for that matter, was Skara’s erstwhile love interest Raith. I never took him seriously and he never really seemed to have a purpose. His was the only character journey that I didn’t really buy.
Besides the main characters, a number of secondary characters are well written and interesting in their own rights. One of the things that sets this series apart is the sheer volume of interesting and complex characters. Not everyone makes it out alive and every victory comes with a cost. The characters at the end of the book are not the same as the ones at the beginning, and you feel their pain. Yarvi in particular has an objective in mind from the very beginning, but the ruthlessness and the sacrifice with which he pursues it isn’t fully revealed until the very end.
The world-building and plot of this book and this series are interesting, but it is all in service of the characters. And I absolutely loved these characters, warts and all. I read the first book in the series and listened to the audio version of the last two. If you want a real treat, listen to John Keating’s narration of these audiobooks. He does an amazing job bringing these characters to life. The character voices are distinctive and entertaining. One of the best jobs of narration I’ve listened to.
I highly recommend this book and this series. I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.