Joe Abercrombie goes in swords and axes swinging in his third volume of the Shattered Sea series of Young Adult novels. War looms over Father Yarvi, Thorn Bathu, and Gettland through the eyes of three new point-of-view characters for a novel that is closest in tone to The First Law trilogy. Only detraction is the non-stop action and abrupt ending leaves Half A War with less room for moments of character development but otherwise satisfying conclusion. Read more for spoilers.
Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how bewildered I was over Joe Abercrombie’s “Half the World” being such an improvement over the first book in the Shattered Sea series, “Half A King”. Now that the third book in the series has been released I decided to reread “Half A King” and see if my opinion has changed.
It has. I don’t have Patrick Rothfuss’s hype for the book clouding my opinion anymore nor does the predictability of the plot bother me because obviously having read it before I already know what happen. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel that way anymore because it was overhyped and the plot was predictable. However, there are details that I missed the first time around that made Yarvi’s fate at the end seem less disappointing and more foreshadowed. His meeting with Mother Gundring at the end set up the continuing conflict for the rest of the series and I felt like I completely missed it the first time.
My point is, “Half The World” changed my opinion of “Half A King.” That usually doesn’t happen with sequels from my experience. Sequels tend to be less than or equal to the original. A poor sequel can make an opinion of the first stronger. A poor sequel can run the enjoyment of the first. What if, though, you disliked the original but loved the sequel as the case with myself and the Shattered Sea series.
What if “Prometheus 2” fixes everything about the first one? What if “Alice Through The Looking Glass” takes the taste of disappointment of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” out of our mouths? What if another Indiana Jones could make “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” worth watching? Most movies don’t get that chance and for good reason. Making a movie requires a lot of money, therefore, to invest it into a sequel to an underperforming movie would be a bad investment. Then again, not all poorly received movies do badly at the box office nor is a poor opinion of anything completely objective.
With video games, it’s more than the story you have to think about. The gameplay can completely change from one game to another. “Mass Effect 2” continues the story of the first “Mass Effect”, but the gameplay so much improved it makes playing the first one difficult to endure. “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion” and “Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” takes place in the same universe and the share the same history but the stories are self-contained and the gameplay is radically different enough they could have no connection whatsoever. “Borderlands 2” takes the concept of the first and blows it up twice as large to great success.
Back to books, should the first book of a series be judged on its own or as part of the whole? Yes and no. For me at least it’s a case by case basis. The disappointing epilogue of “Harry Potter The Deathly Hallows” doesn’t change my enjoyment of the rest of the books in the series but “The Well of Ascension”, the second book in the “Mistborn” series managed to ruin the first book and the third for me. Though I still enjoy it, “A Feast for Crows” is slow compared to three previous books in “A Song of Ice and Fire” but it doesn’t take anything away from them. “The Lord of the Rings” completely changes the importance of BIlbo’s journey in “The Hobbit”, but it doesn’t suddenly become any less a children’s novel. Before it was revealed that Go Set A Watchman was revealed to be a first draft never supposed to be published I had decided to never read it knowing it would ruin Atticus Finch for me based on the news that he was now an elderly racist. Don’t even get me started how “The Silmarillion” both changes and doesn’t change “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” at the same time.
So a sequel can change the perception of the original. It can improve it and worsen it. The question comes down to like it did with “Half the World”, whether you should give the sequel to an original you were not fond of a chance? Books, movies, video games, television shows can all cost money to consume one way or another. You may not have the money or you may have too busy a life to risk the chance. Keep in mind though what you may be missing out on. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s worth risking your time and money.
Last year, one of my favorite authors, Patrick Rothfuss, said Half A King was “[his] favorite Abercrombie book yet. And that’s really saying something.” So naturally I decided to buy, and all his other books. I started The Blade Itself a week before Half A King was to be released and ate it up like I had The Name of the Wind and The Lies of Locke Lamora. When Half A King arrived I read it and when I did I couldn’t wait to finish because I wanted to go back to reading The Blade Itself.
The fact that Half A King was Young Adult didn’t bother me, but everything else did. It all seemed so predictable, paint-by-the-numbers kind of characters and plot. Then the ending came too quick and too anticlimactic. By the end Yarvi broke the greatest sin for a protagonist, I no longer cared about him.
So it was with great reluctance that I started Half the World, the second book in the Shattered Sea series. I need that Joe Abercrombie fix but needed it to be quick because I was right in the middle of reading A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin. I was absolutely blown away.
- Yarvi’s weakness was his crippled hand and how that limited his abilities. Thorn and Bran, though, suffer from internal struggles of self-doubt, anger, and worthlessness. I found this far more engaging because once you figured out Yarvi was clever, you knew he’d always think his way out of any limitations his hand caused.
- Yarvi’s story seemed more coming-of-age, as most YA is, but Abercrombie blends Thorn and Bran’s coming-of-age with the hero’s journey as the two become stronger and prove their worth to the rest of the crew.
- The lore of the Shattered Sea is explored and expanded upon. Half A King seemed so focused on getting back to Gettland that the rest of the world didn’t seem to matter. Plus, the history of the elves, magic, and what disaster they caused is given to us to small amounts to entice the reader’s interest.
- With a bit of age and without his point-of-view Yarvi’s cleverness is more impressive and without his inner monologue, much more cunning.
- With war looming, their cause seems more desperate, the tone more serious, and with better protagonists I’m more worried if they’re going to make it out okay. When events go awry and the characters make a mistake they could have avoided, I am more concerned. When the characters get seriously hurt, injured, and killed I know Thorn and Bran are not completely safe (even though they are.) It’s easier to believe the protagonist isn’t safe when they’re not so clever.
- I had to reopen the first book to discover that Thorn was the thirteen-year-old girl who witnessed Yarvi, with his short time as king, dueling with Keimdall.
- When characters from the first novel are reintroduced, it’s a sure sign of a better book that even when I don’t fully remember the first book Abercrombie makes me feel something for them in the second.
- The romantic tension between Brand and Thorn simmers slowly and never overtakes the main plot or the action. By getting both of their point of views, you get to be frustrated as they each have the same doubt about the other liking them. Sexual tension builds, romantic mishaps happen, and they both get to the point where you wish someone would just sit them both down and go you’re crazy for one another, just kiss already. Someone does and without feeling like a Deus Ex Machina.
- Abercrombie does this through Rin, who through her brother’s and hers experience of hardships teaches Thorn a lesson above privilege, appreciating what she haves, while giving Thorn enough information to figure out what an idiot she’s been with Brand.
- What is a well thought out move, just because they are together doesn’t mean Brand and Thorn’s self-doubts don’t just go away.
- While war is often romanticized in books such as this, especially considering it’s based on Vikings and Norse culture, seeing Brand’s trauma and struggle with the morality of raiding villages hit hard. Then when he stands up for peace and the king praises him for it you feel proud of him also.
- The twist with Grom-gil-Gorm, Mother Isriun, and having Thorn as the Queen’s chosen shield to fight Grom was such a satisfying moment, like when Eowyn reveals herself to the Witch King.
- Then to have Grom, having grown tired of Mother Isriun’s orders, sparing Thorn, turning away from the High King, and forging an alliance with Gettland was a resolution I both didn’t see coming and thoroughly enjoyed. I just assumed, probably because I’ve read so many books where the child becomes the great warrior and avenges their father, that Thorn would find a way to kill Grom.
- Bran in the end shows his own cleverness against Father Yarvi proving himself as someone who stands in the light, as he puts it, without feeling as if his story has had a bad ending. Plus, a marriage proposal awaits Thorn.
- Then to end with Thorn telling off Master Hunnan and becoming a teacher just as Skifr did was the best conclusion this story could get. Perhaps one of these pupils will become the protagonists of Half A War. I’m looking forward to it.