YA Wednesday: “Half a War” by Joe Abercrombie

half a warHalf a War
Joe Abercrombie

Del Rey, 2015.

“Only half a war is fought with swords”

Joe Abercrombie opens Half a War, the slightly disappointing finale to his YA “Shattered Sea” trilogy, with that epigram, as Father Yarvi’s oath of revenge against the High King come to a bloody conclusion, spreading war throughout the land.

But Yarvi, the hero of the opening Half a King, is only a background player this time. The story focuses on Skara, the young queen of Throvenland, who watched her family and subjects butchered by the High King’s brutal warrior, Bright Yilling. She attempts to lead her people with wits to match the arms of her tenuous allies from Gettland and Vansterland.

And that’s where the book gets problematic for me. Because the hints from previous books as to the location of the Shattered Sea become abundantly clear in this over-the-top finale. Stop here if you are worried about spoilers.

Turns out that Abercrombie is writing about a post-apocalyptic Baltic Sea, which explains the Viking flavor. The “ruined elf city” is Stockholm, destroyed in a nuclear war. Yarvi leads his allies into the radioactive ruins to recover “elf magic,” guns and rocket launchers to decimate the armies of the High King.

That was a bit much for me. This wasn’t a bad conclusion, but after the growth from Half a King to Half the World, it was a letdown.

I did appreciate Yarvi’s arc over the entire trilogy, however. The young, crippled and sympathetic hero of Half a King has turned into a monster by the finale, willing to sacrifice anyone, even his closest allies, for his goal of revenge. That was a riveting story, whose seeds were planted in the first book and hinted at in the second, Half the World, but only became fully displayed in the closing chapters here.

The Shattered Sea was my first introduction to Abercrombie, and it certainly whetted my appetite for more of his vision of grimdark. This wasn’t so over-the-top that it descended into parody (although the rocket launchers and chain guns came close), Skara was a light to offset the darkness and I did end the book with a little bit of hope for humanity.

Not much mind you, but a little.

Read the full review at “The Nameless Zine”.

—Michael Senft

Buy Half a War

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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3 Responses to YA Wednesday: “Half a War” by Joe Abercrombie

  1. Kaja says:

    Ha, I KNEW the Shattered Sea map had to fit somewhere in our world but it never occured to me it might be the Baltic. Thanks for that link & clearing this up!
    That said, I complained about similar things in my review, I really liked the first two parts but Half a War wasn’t as good. I had the same problem with his first trilogy, though I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as this one…
    Yarvi is such a great/terrible character. I felt bad for him in Book 1, admired him in Book 2 and wanted to slap him for most of Book 3, which is a sign of a good character development, I think, though I’d have wished Abercrombie left me with a tad more optimism.
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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