HALF A WARHalf a War by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Young Adult Grimdark

Series: Shattered Sea #3

Publisher: Harper Voyager (July 16, 2015)

Author Information: Website | Twitter 

Length: 352 pages

My Rating: 2 stars

I’m a completionist at heart, especially when it comes to reading. When I’ve experienced most of a story, a part of me demands to know how it all ends – even if I have not “loved” the overall series. And this character trait explains why Half a War ended up on my reading list after Half a King and Half the World underwhelmed me.

As this tale begins, three years or so have passed since the events in book two. The Shattered Sea is now ripped apart by war. Gettland and Vansterland staring down the High King. So far though, the alliance between King Uthil and Grom-gil-Gorm has accomplished little, as their ally Throvenland’s fall clearly illustrates. But the deeply cunning (and clearly ruthless) Father Yarvi has schemes within schemes, plots within plots that he has been slowly brewing, waiting patiently to gain his vengeance against Grandmother Wexen, and now the time for true war has come!

This titanic clash between Father Yarvi’s rebellion and Grandmother Wexen’s loyalist is seen through the eyes of three, new point of view characters: Princess Skara of Throvenland, Koll from Half the World, and Raith, sword bearer and cupbearer for Gorm. Very different people who begin this journey with their own unique circumstances, yet quickly find themselves drawn into the swirling vortex surrounding Yarvi. Events playing out around them which they have little to no control over. The hellish toils of war escalating, turning deadly and personal until it builds to a classic Abercrombie ending, where everything and everyone is painted in absolute grey, not a single hero in sight.

Wow, that sounds rather exhilarating, doesn’t it? A rousing and bloody conclusion to this grimwhine series, and there are many things to like here.

Action and bloody combat heads my list. All of the warfare realistically portrayed. Abercrombie fully capturing the brutality of regicide and warfare in this post-apocalyptic world. Death, mayhem, and deceit reign supreme. Sacrifices are made. Lies are told. Innocents die needlessly. Betrayals occur. Alliances are forged then broken. Revenge is served: both the hot and cold varieties. All of it drenched in the author’s cynical view of people; the philosophy that one person’s hero is another person’s villain clearly portrayed.

The true origins of the Shattered Sea is also revealed here. Not fully perhaps, but enough that the mysterious “elves” of the ancient past do come more into focus. This advanced civilization’s fall is hinted at; their poisonous and creepy ruins examined up close; and their lost technology plays a vital role in the conclusion. Abercrombie finally delivering on the promise of this ancient place.

Even acknowledging these strengths, I rated this book as a two star novel, which means it was merely “okay” in my eyes. Let me explain why.

For the third time in three books, Mr. Abercrombie chose to tell his story with all new point of view characters. That means this is the third time I’ve been introduced to new people, had to learn to either empathize or hate them, and seen the same overarching plots retold through the eyes of new characters. At the same time as this is taking place, the trilogy has to wrap up: the stories of Yarvi, Wexen, Uthil, Grom, Thorn, and Brand ending as well as the epic, world changing war concluding. And for all Mr. Abercrombie’s writing skills, he was not able to do all this and still make me feel the same depth of emotional attachment for Skara, Koll, and Raith as I did the stars of Half a King or even Half the World. Rather, our fresh faced trio turned into the latest faces in the Shattered Sea revolving door.

This lack of fully realized characters did not cause my next complaint, but it certainly did not alleviate it. What I’m referring to is the main protagonists in Half a War not being in control or even fully knowledgeable about what is actually going on. Instead of being in the thick of the decision making and plots in this titanic conflict, our trio are always on the outside peaking in like a bunch of kids eavesdropping on the grownups party. Sure, every once in a while the “adults” like Yarvi, Grom, or Thorn will talk to them, pat them on the head, or pass along a tidbit of what is going on inside, but the bulk of the time, Skara, Knoll, and Raith are out of the loop, not in the inner circle, bumbling around in the dark. Their actions having little to do with the outcomes in the story, or if they do, they are merely a puppet whose strings are being pulled by Yarvi or someone else. All of it rending our new characters little more than distractions from the real story playing out behind the scenes, which left me annoyed and longing for a chapter where the old characters (Yarvi, Uthil, et cetera) would be my point of view yet again.

My third complaint is the “romantic” story element here. I have to admit not being a huge fan of Yarvi’s love story in Half a King, but I could swallow it. When Thorn and Brand got together in book two, I rolled my eyes more than a bit, but I’m not a young adult anymore so I just threw it up to my romantic side being a bit cynical after a lifetime of real life. But in this story, Skara and her significant other never, never felt the least bit moving or even plausible. It felt forced and contrived; all of it a set up so the author could paint yet another character in absolute shades of grey.

But the most disappointing aspect of this novel to me, the most annoying element was the absolute lack of suspense. I’m merely speaking for myself, but the ending, the revelation of people’s true actions, and the transformation of characters into traditional grimdark snakes was guessed well in advance and did not deviate from their estimated course. The lack of “Wow!” reveals causing me to skim pages continually.

Now, I know that sounds like I did not enjoy Half a War at all, but the fact is it was an okay book, well worth reading to see how Yarvi and the Shattered Sea story ended. What it has cemented in my mind, however, is that – try as I might – I do not enjoy the kind of grimdark Mr. Abercrombie pens. Not sure exactly what it is, but I find his style, his constant philosophical commentary (I grew tired of “Only half a war is fought with swords” appearing so frequently in the narrative.), and his grey characters lacking in some essential quality, making me dread picking up his books rather than anxious to do so. I completely understand why many of you love his works (I can see his stellar writing ability clearly on the pages in front of me.), but I have merely accepted that I’m not going to be on the bandwagon no matter how many of his books I read. Don’t be sad for me though, because there are more than enough books out there for everyone to love.

Purchase the book at Amazon.

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5 Responses to HALF A WAR

  1. A two star Abercrombie? Never thought I’d see the day 🙂


  2. Great review, I love Abercrombie books but haven’t read this trilogy.

    I really liked you ending comment, it’s so true. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved the trilogy as a whole, though this book was the weakest in my opinion. Spot on re: the “main characters” not being in control in what’s supposed to be THEIR book. Too much was determined by Yarvi and others, and the kids were sort of just along for the ride.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s why I love trading reading experiences with other book lovers: we can see the same book from different angles and gather different perceptions from the same material. One of the reasons I liked this YA trilogy was the fact that it did not feel like the usual brand of YA I had the misfortune to come across, even though – and here I agree with you – the characters were not explored in such depth as I like to see. Nonetheless, and despite what seemed to me a sort of hurried ending, the story was satisfying enough, if not stellar: still, I can see where your objections come from, and understand, if not completely share, them. Thoughtful review, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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