Joe Abercrombie’s Half a War

Okay, first things first, updates.  After much thought I decided that ‘Lesser Evil’ shall not be returning to Kindle Unlimited.  I’m sure the service has been the lifeblood of many struggling self-published authors, and truthfully there was a time when I was making more with the service than from book sales, but my disagreements with Amazon has frustrated me enough that I don’t want to be locked to them exclusively.  The book will still be available for purchase at Amazon, but will also now be available again at Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and a number of other eBook retailers.  I’ll put a complete list at the bottom of this post.

Alright, on to Abercrombie’s Half a War, and perhaps a bit about the Shattered Sea trilogy as a whole.  Brief warning: spoilers may follow, depending on your definition of the word.  Typically I consider anything that happens in the first half of a book up for discussion, but with Abercrombie that can mean serious character twists and/or deaths.  Also, I don’t plan these posts ahead of time, so my train of thought might take me into spoilery area.  You have been thus warned.

Since this is my first time really talking about Abercrombie since I decided to start using this blog as a blog, I guess I should preface this by mentioning my fanboy-ness of him.  Dark (or grimdark, however you consider it) fantasy is such a delicate balancing act, at least in terms of making your story still enjoyable to read.  I know some people like to read truly gritty fantasy, stories of little more than suffering and irredeemable protagonists.  Abercrombie uses the darkness of his worlds to project realism, particularly in regards to the horrors of war.  War is not an epic struggle between good and evil, its a nasty and bloody affairs where soldiers with no stake die for causes they’re not truly invested in. But even as his characters struggle, die, or are horribly maimed, Abercrombie keeps his stories from crossing into that threshold of ‘too dark’ that leaves you depressed.  I think it has everything to do with his skill at keeping you in his character’s heads, being privy to their thoughts and their often humorous takes on the shit they find themselves in.  His characters don’t give up (though they have come close) and they keep picking themselves up and rationalizing their next move no matter how crap things get for them.  Anyway, if you haven’t read ‘The First Law’ trilogy yet, you owe it to yourself to do so, and if you’re a fan of that, ‘The Shattered Sea’ trilogy is also pretty damn good.

‘The Shattered Sea’ trilogy is told in an interesting format.  Each book follows the POV of different characters, with the previous POV characters being relegated to support roles (or the roles of villains, even).  The first book, ‘Half a King’, follows Yarvi, a young man whose deformed hand makes him something of a joke in the warrior-society of the Shattered Sea, training to be a minister until the deaths of his father and brother foists him unprepared into the role of King.  Stuff happens, his throne gets taken, he goes on a grand Abercrombie-esque shitstorm of an adventure, comes back to take his crown only to give it to the rightful king, and finally becomes a minister like he originally wanted.  Of course, nothing is ever than simple and he learns who was really behind the death of his father (the High King and Grand Minister) and thus sets into motion the chain of events of the next book.  Book two, ‘Half the World’, follows Bran, a burly new soldier who just ever wants to do what is right, and Thorn, who tries to prove a woman can stand among warriors by being the meanest and toughest of them all.  They travel under Yarvi’s directions (and his manipulations) recruiting allies for the upcoming war with the High King.

Which bring us to Book 3, which came out last year but I have only just gotten around to now due to various uninteresting reasons.  For those of you who also haven’t gotten to it yet…do so soon.  It is a fun and exciting conclusion to the series.  It follows Koll, the young boy from the previous books that Yarvi freed from slavery and is now a man currently studying under him to be a minister; Skara, the princess of a land Yarvi had tricked into joining his alliance against the High King and then left on their own (to terrible results) and now must try to find a way to save her people; and Raith, sword-bearer of Grom-gil-gorm and a mean, violent bastard, and becuase this is Abercrombie, someone who quickly begins to question that lifestyle and doubt his choices when he sees there is an alternative.  The war against the High King has started in full, and Yarvi’s fragile alliance is greatly outnumbered.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) Yarvi has increasingly manipulative and evil plans to win the war.

I guess I was supposed to tell by book 2 that these books take place in some kind of post-apocalyptic future, and the ‘elves’ they frequently refer to are us, modern-people.  And I think I was supposed to get that when the witch Skifir uses a freakin’ pistol to gun down some savages.  But the characters all assume the pistol is a magic relic, and the elves are a magic, extinct race, and since I don’t always think through the reliability of narrators as much as I should (or think through a lot as much as I should) so the setting of the world was lost to me until partway through this book, when Yarvi’s “Grand Scheme”(tm) comes down to getting their hands on a bunch of forbidden elf weapons.  This adds a lot of questions that don’t really go answered (cause the characters have no way of answering them). Such as, what caused the world to end?  The obvious answer seems to be a nuclear apocalypse, as the event is referred to as “the shattering of the world” and the fact that people who get close to the ‘elf-cities’ get sick and die, which seems to imply radiation, but then again, if this is really so far in the future that modern civilization and technology was completely forgotten and everything was started again in a sword and warrior type era, there shouldn’t be any radiation left, and too many of the buildings seem to be still standing (also, these buildings still standing, is it possible this is not so far in the future after all?  There is still electricity in the city, after all.  So either the books are not so far in the future and there is a weird mind-erasey reason the people have already forgotten all their history, or the apocalypse is further in the future when are buildings are more resistant to the tests of time and power generation has advanced to the point that a thousand years of no maintenance doesn’t cause power failures).

Yarvi’s turn to the dark side was probably the most interesting thing about this series.  Particularly since he was the POV character in the first book. His character arc takes him from sympathetic kid in way over who his head who has to use his wit to survive in a world where might makes right, to a downright evil bastard who will do anything and say anything to accomplish his goals and see his vengeance.  While you can make the argument that his end goals were justified, its pretty hard to justify the actions he took to get there.  Good characters falling into darkness is a time-worn trope, but it is handled here in a unique and surprisingly believable way.

One last note, without spoiling anything, one character in this series actually DOES get a happy ending, not a ‘bittersweet’ ending which are the closest an Abercrombie character usually gets (and often they get much worse).  An actual, honest to god, happy ending, for one character at least. Either Abercrombie is slipping (or was having a really good day) or he is planning some short story or something set in the world to fuck that character over right now.

That’s all I really got to say on it.  I’m in the middle of reading his collection of short stories set in the First Law world, Sharp Ends, so I may write about that next week, or maybe something else if I feel two weeks gushing over Abercrombie is too much.

Oh, and as promised at the top of the article, some links to some non-Amazon places that you can now find ‘Lesser Evil’.  I’ll update the list on the book’s main page as well.

Barnes & Noble
iTunes / iBook Store

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