Half a War by Joe Abercrombie: Stunning Conclusion to the Shattered Seas

The Shattered Seas trilogy that began with the ill-fated journey for Yarvi in Half a King - who then in Half the World travels to the ends of the world until the First of the Cities, with the youngsters Thorn and Brand, now comes around a full circle with Half a War - the shadows of Mother War has finally spread across the sea and land - And a war that is fought with not just the swords but with wit and wisdom and large dollops of backstabbing treachery. The trilogy ends with a flourish - neatly tying the strings of the story - with enough and more nooks and crannies in this beautifully developed world to be explored perhaps in the future. The end was gratifying enough for me, having stuck through the grand designs of Father Yarvi right from book-one when he swore a sun-oath and a moon-oath to be avenged on the killers of his father - till this grand war. And yet, somewhere something about the ending doesn't feel fully right - the final outing is a little less powerful than the previous two books in this series - But maybe that's just my personal opinion.

Gut-wrenching moments of tragedy and death, the unceasing baying for blood and vengeance, the grim and gritty fights, the sparkling aphorisms on life packaged with black humor and irony and the complex relationships between the characters - the staples of an Abercrombie novel, are all here in full display. His prose is sharper and the language to die for and the pacing remains upbeat - so the slim book wouldn't really take long to read. But surviving the harrowing twists and a huge emotional drain with some character-deaths, now that would take time.

Joe goes in for three POVs this time - and the structure while on the surface seems to work well enough ( starting with just Yarvi as the single POV in Book-one, Thorn and Brand as two complementing POV's ind book-two and now three in Book-three!) I personally thought this to be a wee bit weaker in execution. There's Skara ( Princess of Throvenland, a strong female protagonist whom I absolutely adored!), Raith ( a younger male version of Brand - bristling with violence and itching to fight at the drop of a hat) and then Koll, Father Yarvi's apprentice. ( remember the sharp tongued ever curious young boy from book-two who loved climbing masts and carving wood?) These guys don't complement each other's view-point and the narrative is scattered across multiple locations at the same time owing to this structure. Allows for great expansion of the world but inconsistent pacing. And well, they come across as more of spectators as opposed to drivers of the story here. Especially Koll and Raith. While I hated Koll's character, Raith was mildly irritating at his best. I was left figuring out his role in the larger plot till the end.

Anyways, the story this time begins with Princess Skara's life being yanked out of gear by the world dominating machinations of Grandmother Wexen and the High King vying to annexe Throvenland to their dominion. A fearsome killer, Bright Yilling who only worships Death, kills her grandfather and teacher Mother Kyre - forcing her to flee and seek refuge with Gettland - with King Uthil and Queen Laithlin. With the grand army of High King on the move against them, Father Yarvi has brokered an alliance with the great Breaker of Swords Grom-gil-Gorm,king of Vansterland. Now Princess Skara enters into a three way alliance and using her wit and wisdom ( far beyond her slight eighteen years of age!) she manages to convince the uneasy partners to fight to reclaim her lands.

But this brittle alliance groaning under the gaze of mistrust between the two traditional enemies won't be enough to stop the killers led by Bright Yilling. It calls for something more drastic and unholy - and Father Yarvi will not stop at anything to see Grandmother Wexen defeated and humbled. The talons of Mother War spread beyond the lands - out into the sea and even further into older forgotten cities of elf-lands.

Death and mayhem reign supreme in this book about war - a war that is only half fought with swords - and Skara, the reluctant leader and peacemaker between two grumbling factions plays the other half supremely well - maturity and wisdom beyond her age - growing quickly from a sniffling, fearful stick-thin young girl into a resolute, strong-willed and cunning queen who doesn't shy away from manipulations to save her small kingdom. And then again, Father Yarvi - the man whose ambitions knows no bounds and might stretch to cover more than just half this world - is firmly in the driver's seat here as well. While easily my favorite in the whole series, Joe's adroit writing mires every character in shades of grey.

Another striking aspect of the end of this trilogy is the introduction of elf-magic. or Technology with a capital T. We've seen hints and bits of the wonderful world Joe's built over the last couple of books - left over traces of elf-built cities. But in this one, Joe takes us deep into the heart of an elf-city and gives us much more details about the downfall of past civilization/world.

All in all, a fitting end to a wonderful series that sees Joe Abercrombie at the top of his game. The books are much shorter than his previous works but all the more powerful for it. Packing quite a wallop in these slim volumes, Shattered Seas ends on a veritable high with Half a War bringing down the curtains on the relentless plotting and intrigue that was built up over the last two books. I loved it - perhaps not as scintillating as its predecessors, Half a War is still a powerful and engaging end to this trilogy.


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