HALF A WAR by Joe Abercrombie

Words are weapons.

They should be handled with proper care.

There isn’t much room for sentimentality in a Joe Abercrombie novel. Even if it has been tabbed as “young adult,” a term which HALF A KING, HALF THE WORLD and HALF A WAR have convinced me I don’t understand in the least.

For anyone who hesitated in picking up these books because they were marketed as Joe Abercrombie’s first young adult series, there was little cause for concern — most of the point-of-view characters are coming of age, but Abercrombie isn’t pulling any punches here. There’s just as much death, destruction and anguish as in THE FIRST LAW TRILOGY, and many of Abercrombie’s familiar themes regarding regret and the ability to change once again pop up. If he adapted his writing style for this trilogy, it’s impossible to tell.

Abercrombie’s credentials as an author with the ability to write from the perspective of a wide assortment of characters was established well before he ever brought us to the Shattered Sea, and he continues that tradition throughout this trilogy. HALF A KING introduced readers to the crippled prince Yarvi and his desperate attempt to find a place in the world. HALF A WORLD focused largely on Thorn Bathu and Brand. In HALF A WAR, we are introduced to a new cast of young characters — Skara, a princess-turned-queen, whose family was killed and kingdom was shattered by Bright Yilling and his army; Raith, a young warrior assigned to Skara’s service; and Koll, Yarvi’s apprentice, who must choose between life with Rin, the woman he loves, and the ambitious life of a minister.

The characters we’ve come to know and — in some cases, at least — love, are still around. Father Yarvi is a crucial player to the action, as are Thorn and Brand, but they are no long point-of-view characters. Instead, now that they are older, and for good or ill have established their places in the world, we see them from the perspective of the next generation, and are no longer witness to their inner dialogue and deepest fears.

It’s probably for the best. We’ve seen the trials and tribulations Yarvi and Thorn have faced, and seen it change them into unbending, unrelenting forces of nature. In HALF A WAR, we view them from the outside, and see just how terrifying they can become. Each is willing to do anything, terrible things, to destroy their enemies.

Meanwhile, Skara, Raith and Koll each make different decisions, leading us to believe at the end of the trilogy that they might have slightly better futures than the generation preceding them, precisely because they do compromise. Skara’s plotline mirrors Yarvi’s from HALF A KING, but whereas the death of Yarvi’s father and brother leave him metaphorically twisted, Skara emerges stronger, and avoids many of the mistakes Yarvi made.

Koll too serves as a comparison to Yarvi — given the choice between a relatively normal life and that of a minister, advising kings and queens and plotting the course of nations, Koll eventually chooses the path that makes him happiest.

Maybe it’s that hopeful tone of the latest generation making better decisions that makes this a more hopeful series than anything Abercrombie has written previously. There’s still plenty of death and destruction and shattered dreams, and just as in all Abercrombie novels, plenty of characters feel adrift and out of place by the end, but there’s also a touch of hope for the future.

Maybe the Father of Grimdark is going soft on us. But probably not.

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