This definitely wasn’t as good as the first one. It was too straightforward, and the parts that were supposed to be a surprise were pretty obviously telegraphed. Still, it’s a great example of well-written, character based young adult fantasy. It’s just that I expect more from Abercrombie, particularly since he delivered it in Half a King.
Half a World is the second book in Abercrombie’s first ever YA series, Shattered Sea, which takes place in a Nordic/Viking type fantasy environment, a post-magic society with verrrrry traditional gender and power roles. Thorn is a fierce, emotionally stunted girl born to be a warrior in a world where women are dismissed as powerless. Brand is a fearsome fighter as well, but a voice inside of him that is thoughtful and kind always sets him apart from his fellow men who never question their actions or weigh them against their own self-worth. Like Yarvi from Half a King, Abercrombie takes these two characters and then throws them into a crucible where they’re burned down to their basic components and built back up into whole people. The secondary characters in this book, dirty and lawless as you’d expect from Abercrombie, they are nevertheless lovable.
Whereas I felt the first book in the series transcended genre norms and felt the YA classification was irrelevant, this one I can’t say the same for. It’s still much smarter and better-written and probably more different than most YA books, but the basic arc of the story is standard coming of age, surrounded by some series-long arcs, which were also pretty predictible. Nothing too original here, even in the gender politics bits (which were still very good, particularly the way that he has the two MC’s buck expectations). It’s like he sat down and decided to do what every YA book of this type has done before, but do it better and in a bloodier fashion. And he succeeds at that.
The only thing I think should have been left out of the book was the Grom-gil-Gorm prophecy that totally wasn’t ripped off of Return of the King at allll. It added almost nothing to the book, and I could see the events surrounding it miles off.
I may change my mind on this once I read the third book this fall, but I doubt it. Even if that book blows my mind in the best way possible, this one will still be a well-trod YA story, albeit a really good example of the form. SPOILER Which, by the way, also includes a romance, for fuck’s sake. Abercrombie does a teen romance book? He IS going soft. END SPOILER AND ALSO REVIEW.