When I learned that Joe Abercrombie would be writing a YA series, I was a bit worried. After all, the author has established himself as one of grimdark's biggest draws and I was afraid that switching gears to appeal to a different market could well take away most of what made his books so enjoyable. Oddly enough, Half a King was marketed differently on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, it was published as a YA offering, while in the USA Del Rey was marketing the book as they would any other speculative fiction work. And in the end, although it may not have been Joe Abercrombie doing what he does best, Half a King remained a brutal, engaging, entertaining, and satisfying fantasy novel featuring an interesting band of misfits.
For some reason, Del Rey used a totally different approach to market the sequel, Half the World. Last year, the Advance Reading Copy I was forwarded contained absolutely no mention that Half a King was even aimed at a younger audience. But for Half the World, the American edition does mention that this new novel will appeal to YA fans and teen readers. Which kind of scared me, for I was afraid that this would be the least Abercrombie-esque work of the author. Reaching the book's ending left me perplexed as to this different marketing approach, for Half the World was no less dark and violent than its predecessor.
Here's the blurb:
Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War. Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill. Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior. She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh lessons of blood and deceit. Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon. Beside her on the journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption. And weapons are made for one purpose. Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?
Half a King was a rather slim volume, the shortest written by Abercrombie thus far. The smaller wordcount precluded much in the way of worldbuilding. This sequel is about a hundred pages longer, which is great. That and the presence of a map of the Shattered Sea help readers visualize the various kingdoms and flesh out the land. The cast's long voyage throughout a variety of countries and locales permits readers to find out a lot more about the universe. A few tantalizing glimpses of elf relics and technology hint that this tale might be taking place in a far-future dystopian Earth. It will be interesting to see if Abercrombie will shine some light on the elves and how they disappeared from the world in the third installment. The longer length of this work allowed Abercrombie to imbue this one with more depth than its predecessor, true, yet it features the same tighter focus on the narrative that made Half a King so enjoyable. This keeps the pace crisp and this one is as much of a page-turner as the first volume.
The characterization was fantastic in Half a King and I was looking forward to discovering the cast of this new book. Familiar faces such as Father Yarvi, Rulf, and Sumael return in this sequel. It was fun to see how they have evolved as characters and where fate has taken them. Half the World features two main protagonists: Thorn and Brand. The role reversal, with Thorn being the extremely badass girl trained to be a weapon and Brand as the more thoughtful and quiet yet incredibly strong boy, is clichéd through and through. And yet, I was expecting Joe Abercrombie to use our own preconceptions against us, the way he has often done in the past, and surprise us when we least expected it. Sadly, this was not the case and you can see where the story is going from a mile away. That was a disappointment, to be sure. It's not that Thorn and Brand aren't three-dimensional characters. Both are genuine and well-designed protagonists who have been dealt a bad hand and who attempt to go through life as best they can. Both are characters you can easily root for. Trouble is, you know exactly how their fates are intertwined from the very beginning and the culmination of that particular plotline was so predictable as to be dismaying when everything occurred just the way you thought it would. Maybe that's why Half the World is billed as YA? I have no idea. . .
As was the case with the first installment, though there are no major changes in terms of style and tone compared to the author's "adult" works, Half the World is different to a certain extent. The wit, cynicism, and dark humor that characterize Abercrombie's backlist are all present, if a little subdued. Unlike Half a King, this one does feature sex, however. Once more, the violence is not as graphic as usual, with less blood and gore. Half the World is definitely a Joe Abercrombie novel, but again it shows a more self-restrained Joe Abercrombie, one that pulls some of his punches and doesn't go all out the way he did in books like A Red Country and The Heroes. As such, Half the World, although it is a good read, doesn't satisfy the way the grimdark Abercrombie titles habitually do.
Even though some storylines are relatively predictable, as is usually his wont Joe Abercrombie pulls a few unanticipated surprises out of his hat, especially at the end. All in all, Half the World may be a bit weaker than its predecessor, but the novel is nevertheless a worthy addition to this new trilogy and it does set the stage for what should be a very good third and final volume. I'm really looking forward to discovering how Abercrombie will bring this one to a close next year!