For far too long fantasy meant elves, fairies, dragons, and various little races of people with too much hair on their feet. If you want a little more meat and blood on your bones, let me suggest Joe Abercrombie, and his new book Half the World. This a brawling sprawling book full of adventure and battles. What makes it so good is that Mr. Abercrombie’s warriors are real, living, breathing people full of nerves and fear as well as courage.
The main characters, Brand, a young man and Thorn Bathu, a young woman, both of whom wish nothing more than to be warriors for their homeland, Gettland. Both however, are unfairly denied the right, and end up finding their destiny tied up with Father Yarvi, minister to the King. They also find themselves sharing a bench as oarsman, (oarspersons?), on a trip halfway across the world to find allies in a desperate fight against the High King. During the trip we get a good look at their world, as well as the assorted cast of ruffians with which they are sailing. More importantly, for the story, both of them learn more about themselves and each other.
Brand is a good guy in all the best ways. Strong and brave, but reluctant to kill, and determined to do the right thing whenever possible. Thorn is touched by Mother War, happiest when she is fighting, but unsure of how to make her way in a world that refuses to accept her. Fortunately, Father Yarvi knows a woman, the truly bizarre Skifr, who can train her to become formidable fighter.
That is the entire plot that you get. Mr. Abercrombie tells a taut and tense story, and the dangers and toil of the world come alive in his prose. The work is dirty and tiring, and the battles bloody and scary. I don’t want to ruin the rest of this wonderful ride, so you are going to have to read it for yourself. Just be prepared, everything doesn’t always turn out all right. Trust me when I say that nothing makes the light brighter than a good handful of darkness.
This is Thorn and Brand’s story, and both are vivid and have depth. They are flawed and human, and still they become heroes often in ways in which I did not expect. I have to admit that I was a little more drawn to Thorn, but she is almost larger than life. There is probably just as many readers out there who are ready to join team Brand.
The one other thing that makes this novel really stand out is that it is the second in a trilogy, and I didn’t read the first, and I felt that I wasn’t missing a thing. That has happened to me only a few times, so I have to take my hat off to Mr. Abercrombie. When my hat is back on I am going to go to the book store and get the first book, Half a King.