Half the World

Joe Abercrombie
Half the World Cover

Half the World


You gotta hand it to Joe Abercrombie. Knocking it out of the park on his first venture into Young Adult territory could be seen as a fluke, but when he nails it again for a second time, it's clearly a testament to his writing skills and versatility. This author is a master when it comes to storytelling, whether he's writing for teens or adults.

Half the World is the follow-up-but-not-really-a-direct-sequel to Half a King, which introduced readers to the land of Gettland and a young prince with a crippled hand named Yarvi. A man grown now, Prince Yarvi has become Father Yarvi, a trusted minister to Gettland's king, and is no longer the main focus; instead, that torch and its responsibilities have been passed on to sixteen-year-old Thorn Bathu, a girl with a fierce heart and a fighter's spirit.

Determined to one day avenge her father, Thorn has been training for years to become a warrior of Gettland, only to fail on the day of her testing and be condemned to death for the accidental killing of a fellow student. When a young warrior named Brand speaks up on her behalf, Thorn is spared from execution only to be swept up along with Brand into an ambitious political plot devised by the cunning Father Yarvi, which sees the three of them and a ragtag crew embarking on an exciting but dangerous diplomatic mission across half the world.

For a society that worships a goddess referred to as Mother War, you would think they'd be more open and accepting of female warriors, but apparently not. It's an uphill battle all the way for Thorn Bathu to prove herself to her teacher, her peers and even to her own mother, whom Thorn suspects had always wished for a daughter more into sewing and pretty dresses. But Thorn is who she is, and I can't say I would have preferred it any other way. Not that kickass heroines are in short supply when it comes to the YA genre, but take any of the female protagonists in any of the more popular books in the genre these days, and I guarantee you Thorn will make every single one of them look like fluffy kittens. When I say Thorn is a tough girl, you definitely get a tough girl. That's mainly because Abercrombie simply does not hold back when it comes to his characters; if he feels that a fight scene calls for his protagonist getting a knife through the cheek...well, she's getting a knife through the cheek ("Ouch, sorry about that, Thorn, but it builds character!)

Not that Abercrombie is infallible. One thing to note is that there was not a full-blown romantic subplot in Half a King like there is inHalf the World, and when it comes to writing a YA romance and a teenage girl's perspective, he manages admirably though not without unintentional awkwardness. Scenes where Thorn is kicking ass and taking names seem to come naturally, but where her softer feelings for Brand are concerned (playing mental games of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not, feeling jealous of other girls, appreciating the virtues of his well-toned backside, etc.) that's when you sense that Abercrombie may be feeling a bit out of his comfort zone. It's not too distracting; the moments where Thorn almost acts like a completely different person are more amusing than they are truly problematic. However, this does make Brand the more consistent character, and I sometimes found myself enjoying and looking forward to his chapters more than Thorn's.

Story-wise, I also found the twists and turns in Half the World to be somewhat tamer and more predictable than in Half a King, though this might have something to do with the fact that we now know the character of Father Yarvi well enough to "expect the unexpected". Nevertheless, I sailed through this novel loving every page of it, but the highlight was without a doubt the last few chapters that led up to and culminated in the stunning climax. For you see, fight scenes are a bit of a Joe Abercrombie specialty. Once the action starts, it's impossible to tear your eyes away. The final showdown was one such sequence, with the suspense keeping you on the edge of seat until the moment of reckoning. As climaxes go, that was close to perfection. Before the ending, I was already pretty set on rating Half the World a solid 4 stars, but that one amazing scene alone made me bump it up to 4.5.

One thing is clear, though - the scene is now set for the next and final book of the trilogy. Seeing as how things have progressed so far, Half a War promises to be even more intense and exciting. I can't wait.