The waves smash mercilessly against the ravaged lands which line the Shattered Sea, and while anger and envy overflow, trust and forgiveness are in short supply in the kingdom of Throvenland, the demands of the High King causing unrest. Across the narrow straits from the High King’s seat at Skekenhouse is Bail’s Point, home to Throvenland’s King Fynn and his granddaughter Princess Skara, a strategic access point to the Shattered Sea, control of which the High King believes he must not lose.
When Bail’s Point is attacked by Bright Yilling on the orders of the High King and his cunning and ruthless minister Grandmother Wexen, Skara is one of the few to escape, smuggled out on a trading ship to the city of Thorlby where she is welcomed by her cousin Laithlin, the golden queen of Gettland. An orphaned child thrust into a position of power, a queen whose land has been seized and sacked by enemy forces, Skara must swallow her doubt and fear and rally her squabbling allies to free beseiged Throvenland.
At her side she has Sister Owd, too young to carry the wisdom of their shared teacher who was slain at Bail’s Point, the aging but still crafty Blue Jenner, captain of the Black Dog, and Raith, appointed to her side by the warrior king of Vansterland, Grom-Gil-Gorm, deadly, quick-tempered and as resentful of his assignment as he is captivated by the teenage heir-in-exile.
The concluding volume of Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, Half a War continues the progression of Half the World in that while all the (surviving) characters of the preceding volume are present, they take a step back to allow new faces to step into the light, Skara and Raith and also Koll, the boy who sailed Half the World now grown to a young man caught between duty to the ministry and his secret love.
As ever with Abercrombie, the prose is as fast and tight as the swordsmanship of King Uthil of Gettland, his words as well chosen as the ever-calculating Father Yarvi, once the main protagonist of Half a King and now the master architect of the campaign to free Throvenland. An unknown quantity to Skara and Raith, neither of whom hail from his homeland, through the long association of the previous novels he is instinctively trusted by the reader but even then he is not exempt from the suspicion that his decisions, best for the throne of Gettland, may not be in the interests of all parties.
Despite Abercrombie’s stated intention that this would be a “quick” trilogy of shorter novels than he normally crafts, each successive volume has increased on the page count of its predecessor with Half a War weighing in at a full five hundred though with not a wasted word among them, perhaps just as well, for as Skara has learned to her advantage only half a war is fought with swords, the other half being conducted with ideas, strategy and daring.
With the future of the lands of the Shattered Sea on the slippery stones of fate, all the hallmarks of Abercrombie’s bloody brand of fantasy are in place, bravery and bluffs, vicious victories and the bitter aftermath of battles lost and won, and just occasionally kindness, warmth and mercy; there will be tears, and not just from the smoke of burning homesteads.
A satisfying and complete conclusion to the trilogy, with a precedent set by the world of The First Law trilogy, later revisited in three standalone volumes and the forthcoming collection Sharp Ends: Stories from the World of the First Law, due April 2016, it is to be hoped that in time Abercrombie might choose to brave the chop and spray of the Shattered Sea once again in search of further adventure.