Curiously nerdy posts.
Another week, another book. This time, I took another ride with Joe Abercrombie.
Now, I’m a pretty big fan of his, as evidenced by how I’ve bothered to rank all of his books in previous posts. That being said, I felt that his last book, Half A King, was a long shot from his best work. The reasons for this were numerous, but the simplest reason is this: Abercrombie is at his best when his writing pulls no punches. I want to read about visceral battles, warriors with countless scars, and characters that are always various shades of gray. Half a King had these elements, but it felt like drinking diet soda compared to his previous offerings. I still enjoyed it more compared to most fantasy, but it just felt like he was holding back. I know, I know. Going YA is the cool thing to do to get more readers, so I understand why he did so.
The blurb reads like this:
Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.
Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.
Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior.
She finds herself caught up in the schemes of Father Yarvi, Gettland’s deeply cunning minister. Crossing half the world to find allies against the ruthless High King, she learns harsh lessons of blood and deceit.
Sometimes a warrior becomes a weapon.
Beside her on the journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill, a failure in his eyes and hers, but with one chance at redemption.
And weapons are made for one purpose.
Will Thorn forever be a pawn in the hands of the powerful, or can she carve her own path?
Did this book rectify some of those missteps of the previous one? Well…
The protagonists. While this book does a fine job continuing to build on the new Shattered Sea setting, with plenty of characters and continuity from Half a King to have fun recognizing, it’s the two new protagonists that really make this book go. I really liked both Thorn and Brand. Thorn starts off extremely unlikable, but gets better and better as she goes through her training to become a real badass. It’s always a fun change of pace when the hardcore warrior type in a fantasy novel is a woman, and even crazier when it’s a teenage girl. It’s nice to note that her path from all bark to all bite (well, with a bit of bark left) is earned at a deliberate pace. That’s all I ever ask out of good storytelling… for the writer to earn it. Abercrombie is one of the best at doing that.
Brand is just as intriguing. He is incredibly strong, but is a gentle soul. He’s also socially awkward, is slightly Canadian with how much he apologizes, and is completely clueless when it comes to knowing how to stand up for himself. This is an important plot point, by the way. It’s a nice slow build, though, and by the time he speaks up for himself, it’s a payoff that makes you feel so good for him. Even if he’s, you know, a fictional character.
The chemistry between the two of them seems believably plausible. I mean, yeah, they do get together, but anyone who’s read anything will see that coming a mile away. But that doesn’t matter. What does is how it happens, and whether it will make a reader cringe. Luckily, I’m happy to report minimal cringing.
I loved Brand’s quote close to the end of the book. “I always thought that the hard work is over when you finally get together. But turns out that’s where the work really begins.” To me, that really sets the YA-romance aspect of this book apart from so many others: it treats a human relationship like it’s being held between actual human beings, not placeholder Mary Sues or Gary Stus who never really had any other purpose.
The Game of Thrones impression. The plot of this book is centered around political turmoil, rival kings, and their loyal servants who do questionable deeds in the shadows to help them keep or gain power. Sound familiar to you? It should. It’s sort of a popular kind of fantasy these days.
While I’m firmly of the belief that NO ONE (not even George RR Martin himself, apparently) can write a huge sprawling story of political intrigue and maintain a high quality indefinitely, Abercrombie took some of the best aspects of Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and especially A Storm of Swords, and mashed them together with his own style from The First Law trilogy. What we get as a result is a pretty awesome story building to a head in the final book of the trilogy he has planned. I actually wanted more on the cutthroat politics and alliances than the book gave me. Good thing the YA romance was enjoyable in its stead.
Honorable mention to Yarvi being a major source of the intrigue. He works much better as a background character than a protagonist, as he was in Half a King. It lets him be more of a schemer, and surprise you with what he is willing to do for “the greater good”.
The violence. Abercrombie’s signature medieval violence is back, and it feels a touch edited, it’s much more graphic than his last book. Hooray! You can’t have a story so obsessed with swords not detail blood being spilt. Makes the whole thing feel insincere.
The climax. I’m split on this, but I have to be critical of something, I suppose. Abercrombie seemingly has a fondness for duels. They play a major part in Last Argument of Kings, The Heroes, and now Half the World. And while something clever happens in all of them, I’m starting to get a pro wrestling vibe from them. There’s no such thing as “hero is stronger than the bad guy, and just takes him down after a hard won fight.” No, something from the outside has to interfere, as to keep the bad guy looking badass, and the hero alive.
I actually liked the outcome of this one, as it progressed the personal stories AND the main plot, but I’ll start worrying if I see another duel anytime soon.
This was a great book. I blazed through it, taking the chance to read it whenever I could. It still had issues, particularly the balance between predictable YA elements and the much cooler political intrigue, but all of the parts of it were fun to read. So, it’s not a classic. But it is a lot of fun, and definitely a page-turner. I’d rate this ahead of both Half a King and The Heroes.
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