Hild “Thorn” Bathu is the first woman in a generation to be accepted into training for the king’s raid, but as ever, pain, bad timing and misfortune plague the shores of the Shattered Sea. Participant in tragedy in the final tests of her fighting skills and already unpopular among her fellow students, the word of Master Hunnan is not questioned in the hearing and Thorn is named a murdered and sentenced to be crushed by stones.
Only the orphaned trainee Brand comes forward to tell Father Yarvi the inconvenient truth that the death of the student was an accident, but while this spares Thorn’s life there is a price for unwanted honesty. Having betrayed Master Hunnan, Brand is similarly denied the place on the king’s raid for which he has fought and trained his whole life. Having incurred debts to undertake the training, he is forced to take whatever work he can on the docks to get by.
Across the Shattered Sea, Grandma Wexen is plotting, playing the kingdoms against one another in service of the High King of Skekenhouse, but in the in the court of Thorlby the antagonism of the High King can now be called out openly since the return of King Uthil and it is Father Yarvi, agent of Father Peace, who is to be despatched to seek allies in preparation for the inevitable coming of Mother War, carrying with him the coin of Laithlin, the Golden Queen.
The second volume of Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy is a shift of perspective; where Half A King was wholly Yarvi’s tale, this is a dual narrative for Thorn and Brand, tied together on the back oar of Yarvi’s ship South Wind, unlikely and unhappy crewmates. Their destinations are known, but what will greet them when they arrive is uncertain, and Father Yarvi is a man of mystery and “deep cunning,” as Abercrombie reminds perhaps a little too frequently.
With his twisted hand, opaque motives and unswerving focus on the result rather than the method, Yarvi as seen through the eyes of Thorn reminds of Interrogator Glotka of the world of The First Law, and like those novels this isn’t a world arrested. Brand’s elder sister, Rin, has developed a new process for making sword steel, and it is likely that progress will further shift the precarious balances of power and the side who can best exploit it will be in the position to strike the first blow.
Aware that far from home the reach of steel is greater than the reach of law, that distance also allows Yarvi leeway, aware that under the close watch of those to whom he is beholden his dabbling with ancient elf artefacts could be seen as witchcraft, even heresy, while he sees them as a door to progress and victory. Yarvi will make alliances any way he can, and he is not above double play and harsh deception in his obligation to play the larger game in which any pawn may be necessarily expendable.
Where Half a King was defined by the constant threat, Yarvi a slave, Yarvi pursued, Half the World lacks that sense of urgency but is a vital introduction to the other realms which are likely to be embroiled in the forthcoming conclusion of the trilogy Half a War, due later this year. This is not to say that there are not wild and brutal encounters on the way, but the long voyage and the shifting relationships do on the whole fall predictably, though this does not mean that the book is for one page anything less than hugely enjoyable; as ever, Abercrombie is an astute and reliable if bloody entertainer.
Half the World is available now from Harper Voyager