This is a formulaic but well-written bridge novel, that builds up the narrative to its final denouement while providing compelling character stories to provide meaning and context to the narrative.
Half the World is the bridge novel between the events that start the series’ main conflict, as well as the events that resolve it. It’s another riff on the itinerant journey to find yourself formula, but in a somewhat more uplifting fashion than Yarvi’s own travails in the first book.
The book features two point of view protagonists this time: Thorn Bathu and Brand. Both are depicted as misfits, unable to conform to the well-defined roles demanded of them by society. Thorn, a girl, desires to be a warrior like her father, but when she accidentally kills another trainee in an accident indirectly caused by her training instructor, she is unjustly sentenced to death by stoning. Only Brand’s intervention saves her from this fate, but he sacrifices his chance to become a warrior in doing so. Misfits in a society that has cast them out, they eventually join Yarvi in a journey to seek allies against the High King in Skekenhouse.
As you’d expect, both protagonists grow and come of age in the course of the story, performing heroic deeds and gaining strength until their names and deeds are feted across the Shattered Sea. Thorn becomes a master swordsman at the hands of an enigmatic teacher, while Brand discovers his strength and becomes an implacable pillar for the journey. They visit many fascinating places on their journey to the First of Cities (a future-medieval version of Istanbul) to seek aid from the Empress of the South. There’s some awkward teen romance, peppered by a series of misunderstandings that prevent Thorn and Brand from acknowledging their feelings to each other. Then finally, they return to Gettland to finally achieve the impossible. By facing down the implacable Vansterlander King Grom-gil-Gorm in single combat, Thorn wins an alliance between the two ancient enemies, in alliance against the High King. (There’s an amusing parodic reference there: it was prophesied of Grom-gil-Gorm that no man would kill him, so Yarvi set Thorn up to face the King in single combat so that he would lose confidence. He still won, though. Good thing you dodged that trope, Abercrombie).
Ordinarily, bridge novels such as these could very easily become expository slogs, in which authors rush to fill in all the gory details of their complex and intricate plots before the magnificent endings that they envision. Luckily, Abercrombie manages to fill this bridge book with compelling, if somewhat by-the-numbers, depictions of character growth and progression, while adroitly setting those stories amidst the larger political and narrative context. The book also charts Father Yarvi’s slow descent into corruption, one that will emerge as a large theme in the final novel. It’s not particularly innovative, but it’s a competent and sure-handed depiction of two young adults finding themselves amidst the personal crises – both physical and psychological – that beset them.
I give this book: 4 out of 5 elf-bracelets