Review of Half the World by Joe Abercrombie (Best book of 2015 so far)
It’s the mark of a great author and a greater book when you’re reading it and forget about everything else. You forget where you are, that you’ve got homework to do, or it’s half past two in the morning and you’re still turning the pages. But you’re not really turning the pages; you’re in them, there in the mud with the characters, standing by them on the prow of a ship with the icy, salty wind on your face and your hand clutching the cold pommel of a sword. You don’t just read a Joe Abercrombie book, you live it. Sounds cheesy. But it’s the truth.
Half A King, the predecessor to Half the World, is one of my favourite books of all time, and in my top five books of 2014. It was packed with action, great characters, greater dialogue, humour, epic world building and some of the best, if not the best, high fantasy writing I’ve ever read. I wasn’t a great fan of high fantasy before Abercrombie brought us the Shattered Sea trilogy. High fantasy can be dense with detail and ever-shifting points of view. It can be overlong and rambling. But Half a King was the opposite. Faster paced than most thrillers, Half a King was a read-in-one-sitting book. So Abercrombie had a tough task on his hands delivering a worthy, and better, second novel.
And he’s done it. Half the World is a hundred pages longer than Half a king, but it’s still just as fast paced, still as gripping and well-written. This time around, Yarvi, the Half King of the first book’s title and the main character last time, is now a supporting character (though his motives shape the entire plot of the book). Thorn and Brand are the new protagonists and the POV is split equally between them. Both are great characters, and change a lot over the course of the novel. So much so that it feels as if years pass from page 1 to page 484. The supporting cast are just as well developed. Abercrombie’s trademark humour is evident on almost every page and in almost every character. There are characters to cheer on, hate, love, hate again. By the time page 484 arrived I felt like I knew the characters, had known them for years.
For a book that is almost 500 pages, it does not feel it. The pages fly past. There’s barely a moment to breathe, but when there is Abercrombie makes sure it’s not for long. Every chapter is filled with action or pace, danger and tension, or all four at once. The set pieces are tight and tense and so well-written it’s hard to believe. The world is vivid and real. It’s easy to taste the salt on the air, feel the cold, the clash of swords. Abercrombie describes teeth rattling as swords clang, and mud churning, and blood flying. You’re there, in the midst of battles and fights. The rain is on your face like it is on the characters’.
The pace races along to a tense finale that makes you hold your breath and shout encouragement to the characters. Again, the mark of a great author and book. And there’s no doubt Abercrombie is great and this sequel is too. With the third book also being released this year, I’ll be buying a copy faster than Thorn Bathu can draw her sword.
Epic. Highly, highly recommended. The best book of 2015 I’ve read so far, and one of my favourite books of all time. If you like Game of Thrones, or high fantasy, or even if you don’t, read this book.