"Half the Word" by Joe Abercrombie. A Review
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Left dangling with anticipation in “Half a King,” many readers will be delighted that Joe Abercrombie’s soon-to-be-released 384 page hardback, “Half the Word” is about to see the light of day. In this new work the author picks up a few old friends who are drawn into perilous adventures with new oar-mates, forged together by sweat, fear, fighting and savagery, into a family of sorts. Their exploits take them through half the world, creating much needed, but unlooked for, alliances for Gettland, while overcoming obstructions, conflicts, and vows for revenge.
“Half the World” revolves around a young teenage girl, Thorn Bathu, who has vowed to one day kill Grom-gil-Gorm, the Breaker of Swords and Maker of Orphans, and the killer of her father. The determination runs deep in her blood, and drives her every waking and sleeping moment. She trains in Master Hunnan’s school with this ambition in mind, only to be set up for failure, and through an accident in the sparring ring, finding herself declared a murderer. From here the making of a warrior in all of her Amazonian intensity begins in earnest as Father Yarvi, now the King’s minister, takes her under his wing on his extended journey to the First of Cities, which is half a world away. Thorn is trained by a skilled fighting woman, Skifr, throughout the long voyage, strengthening her muscles, sharpening her skills, and stiffening her resolve. Thorn’s finely fashioned fighting abilities will pay off in winning the heart of the new, young and inexperienced Empress Vialine. Thorn’s daring in defending the Empress, almost singlehandedly, against seven warriors and the sinister Duke Mikedas, will shape an unlooked for alliance between the Empress, her Empire and Gettland.
The expedition sails aboard the South Winds, with a rugged and ruthless crew that includes Rulf the helmsman who had travelled with Father Yarvi in the previous book. But the crew also includes Brand, one of Thorn’s fellow students from Master Hunnan’s school. Brand, orphaned young, has found himself betrayed for his honesty, and similarly pulled into Father Yarvi’s cunning agenda. The adolescent dynamic between Brand and Thorn is stiff but tolerable at first, and then turns icy cold on the return trip from the First of Cities, only to melt into heated embraces in the last third of the book. Both Thorn and Brand develop from the uneasiness of their youth into more mature individuals who find something of their place and purpose in the world. There are wonderful turns and twists through most of “Half the World” that will keep a reader on their bookish toes, turning pages, and biting their nails.
Yet, the wheels of “Half the World” begin to deflate in the last third of the book, where the storyline becomes tired and trudges along. One wonders if the plot becomes more plodding because the author starts imposing steamy love scenes between Thorn and Brand that add nothing to the story, or did the author sense the narrative sagging and so brings in the intrusive sexual trysts to spice things up? There is a shorter, similar scene between Father Yarvi and Sumael. Though none of them are outright pornographic, the scenes are distracting, disappointing and downright unnecessary. Maybe I should have expected that something like this might come about, since earlier in the book I was taken aback by the immodest description of Thorn’s discomforting moment of menstruation that I imagine would bring a blush to many young women’s cheeks. As a father of girls who have grown to womanhood, I know from experience that they would rather the whole business be kept private and not displayed for all to see. In the end, none of these episodes add any value to the plotline, but instead cheapen what was a great story.
“Half the World” began with promises of being just as good, if not better, than “Half a King”. But it ended up sagging its way into being only half the book it promised to be. Sadly, I find it difficult to recommend.
My thanks to Random House Publishing and Net Galley for the temporary e-copy of this book used for this review.
(Feel free to repost, republish or reprint this review; but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike)
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