“Where do we find allies?”
Father Yarvi smiled. “Amongst our enemies, where else?”‘
It has literally been months since I read Half A King, the first book in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series, and I’ve finally read the second book Half The World. Hooray! To be honest, although I loved Half A King I had kind of been putting off reading Half The World because I was worried about the fact it looked (from the blurb at least) as if the main characters of the first book were no longer the main characters in the second book. I really liked Yarvi and co. from the first book, so I feared it wouldn’t be as good with different main characters, but thankfully I was wrong!
At the start of the book two young hopeful warriors, Thorn and Brand, find themselves thrown together by fate, setting out on a journey that crosses half the world. When Thorn accidentally kills a boy in the training square she is only saved from death by Father Yarvi who recruits her as as an oarsman (oarswoman?) on his ship as he sets out to find allies for Gettland in the coming war. Brand meanwhile decides to do the right thing and tell the truth about what happened with Thorn in the training square, quashing his dreams of becoming a Gettland warrior and leaving him little option but to join Father Yarvi’s expedition. Along with Father Yarvi and the motley crew of the South Wind, the two set out on an epic quest across the world. Their lives will never be the same again…
I was pretty worried with this book about the two new main characters, and although I really liked them in the end, at the outset of the book I wasn’t so sure. Thorn, as a tough female warrior, was a pretty cool character, but her attitude at the start quite frankly stinks (not to sound like the mother of some bratty teenager!). She seems to think the entire world is against her, and her name is pretty apt – she’s prickly and irritable, and altogether kind of annoying. Brand meanwhile is completely the opposite – too meek and mild, and a bit of a goody-goody. However, the way the characters grow and develop throughout ended up being one of my favourite things about the book, and by the end I had grown to really like them.
I also liked that so many characters returned from Half A King. Whilst the Yarvi of the first book is unsure of himself and feels rejected by his family and country, it was interesting to see the development of his character from the first book, and to see him from the perspective of Thorn and Brand. They see him not as the nervous young man of the first book, but as the brave, wise and powerful Minister of Gettland, and the man who will save their country from destruction. In fact I actually found him to be a lot more likeable in this book!
I also liked the return of Rulf, one of my favourite characters from the first book, and Yarvi’s mother the Golden Queen Laithlin, who was also a lot more likeable in this second book. I also spent a lot of the book hoping for the return of Sumael, but I have to say that when she finally reappeared, I felt her role was a little lacklustre. In fact she was hardly recognisable as the tough and resourceful navigator of the first book during her brief reappearance, but maybe that’s just because it’s been a while since I read Half A King?
However, some of the new characters made up for Sumael’s underwhelming reappearance, Skifr being one of my favourites. I was really intrigued by her and really wanted to know more of her backstory and where she learned to fight in such a deadly manner. I also liked some of the rough-around-the-edges oarsmen on the South Wind like Odda and Fror (how did he actually get that scar? I want to know!), and the motherly figure of Safrit.
I also liked that with Half The World we got to see a lot more of the world of the series than we saw in Half A King. Whilst I like the harsh, Viking-like society of Gettland, it was interesting to read about the different places and cultures that also make up the world of the book, such as the elf ruins, and Kalyiv (a kind of moving city), and the First of Cities and the Empire of the South. The scene where Thorn and Brand go the market in the First of Cities in particular stands out as being extremely vivid, with detailed descriptions of all the colours, and people, and smells. The lavishness was definitely a contrast to the starkness of Thorlby where the novel starts anyway!
Overall, I really enjoyed the second instalment of the Shattered Sea trilogy, and thankfully didn’t feel it suffered from focusing on different characters. In fact, I kind of liked this in the end, because it was unusual for a series to do that, and the character development of Thorn and Brand was in my opinion, superb. They went from fairly unlikable characters at the start (well, in my opinion anyway!), to a hero and heroine you could really root for. Half A War was released not long ago, and I’m not really looking forward to finding out how the series ends. Hopefully I won’t leave it quite so long this time!