|“||Some men are touched by Father Peace. Just as some women are touched by Mother War.||”|
Half the World is the second book of the Shattered Sea series, a trilogy written by British author Joe Abercrombie. The story deals with two new characters, Thorn and Brand, while Yarvi remains as a central character.
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 murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.
Sometimes a woman becomes a warrior. Fate traps her in the schemes – and on the ship – of the deep-cunning minister Father Yarvi. 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 her gruelling journey is Brand, a young warrior who hates to kill. A failure in his eyes and hers, he has one chance at redemption.
And weapons are made for one purpose. Will Thorn forever be a tool in the hands of the powerful or can she carve her own path? Is there a place beyond legend for a woman with a blade?
SPOILER Our story begins in the training square, where Master Hunnan is putting some 16-year-olds though their final test, to see who can become a warrior and go on King Uthil’s raid against the Islanders. Among the group is Hild “Thorn” Bathu, the only girl who's desperate to follow in her dead father’s footsteps as a famous warrior – not easy in this male-dominated world. Fellow hopeful, Brand, is as driven as Thorn, hoping to collect enough spoils of war to save himself and his sister, Rin, from a life of poverty. Anyway, Thorn passes her final test in a fight against Brand, but Master Hunnan is a misogynistic old bastard, and insists on a second test against three opponents at once. It is not only unfair, but in a tragic accident, Thorn kills one of the boys when her training-sword cracks into a needle-sharp edge. Thorn is arrested for murder, and sentenced to be crushed with stones. However, Brand is a young man with a strong sense of morals, and intervenes on her behalf by telling what actually happened to Father Yarvi, who, in the intervening years, has acquired a somewhat sinister reputation. Thorn is released after swearing an oath of service to Father Yarvi, while Brand is denied his place as a warrior as retaliation from Master Hunnan.
With war looming between Gettland and the High King, Thorn voyages with Father Yarvi to Skekenhouse, the High King’s capital. There she meets Grom-Gil-Grom, who killed her father Strom Headland in a duel, for which Thorn wants revenge. Politics ensues. On the way back, they stop in Thorvenland in search of allies, but cautious King Fynn and his daughter, Skara, are conveniently “out of town”. That night, Thorn catches and kills a man putting something in their water barrel. Turns out it’s poison! King Fynn is outraged that a poisoner, apparently from Skekenhouse, should attempt to kill guests in his house, and pledges an alliance with Gettland.
Father Yarvi’s next diplomatic mission is the far longer journey, down the Divine and Denied Rivers, to the First of Cities (basically Constantinople). Along for the ride are Brand and Thorn, helmsman Rulf, storekeeper Safrit and her son Koll (Ankran’s formerly enslaved family), and a motley crew that includes big man Dosduvoi, diminutive pirate Odda, a scarred Vansterman called Fror, and Skifr, a flamboyant thief of “Elf-relics” who’s an absolute monster of a fighter. During the journey, Skifr trains Thorn in her own fighting style, with sword and axe, and an emphasis on speed, skill, and aggression, over raw strength. They portage the ship over a mountain, where Brand prevents disaster by being strong as an ox or two. They meet some people, Blue Jenner and Prince Varoslaf of Kalyiv, and kill some others, mostly Eurasian Steppe nomads. We also learn that Skifr’s “Elf-relic” is a present-day semi-automatic pistol (not a revolver as it ejects the shell casings which Father Yarvi picks up and examines), and she has some funny ideas about the weapon; executing a mortally wounded Odda out of superstition.
After many months, Father Yarvi and co. finally reach the First of Cities. It turns out, “The Empress of the South is dead, long live the Empress of the South!” The new empress, Vialine, is a teenaged girl, being used as a figurehead by her uncle, Duke Mikedas. At first, Father Yarvi fails even to gain an audience with her, with Grandmother Wexen having sent Mother Scaer to scupper any alliance. Luckily, one of the Empress’ counsellors turns out to be none other than Sumael! Sumael and Yarvi clearly still have feelings for one another, and she arranges at least a brief audience with the Empress. Meanwhile, a tentative romance blooms between our two teenaged protagonists, but the course of true love never did run smooth, and it ends abruptly over a dumb misunderstanding about some glass beads. Anyway, Thorn, as a female warrior, inspires Empress Vialine to stand up to her overbearing uncle, which leads to a coup attempt. Thorn, being a badass, kills five of Duke Mikedas’ six heavily-armed soldiers, while armed only with a fruit knife, before she’s taken down. Fortunately, Brand hears the commotion, and saves the day, killing the last soldier, and throwing the Duke off the roof. In the aftermath, Empress Vialine purges her court of her uncle’s allies, and pledges her support for Gettland. Before the crew start their long journey home, Father Yarvi also persuades an imprisoned Mother Scaer to help forge an alliance with Vansterland.
Months later, back in Gettland, Thorn is a bit of a legend, with the story of killing seven … fifteen … twenty warriors single handed having marched ahead of them. For his part, Brand is a bit bemused to find his sister has already saved them from poverty, by proving herself a master blacksmith. The misunderstanding over the glass beads is finally cleared up, when Thorn discovers Brand bought them for his sister, not some other lover, and the pair hook up. All the while, the conflict between Gettland and Vansterland is heating up, with raids launched by both sides. Brand participates in a Gettland raid, but, wanting to “do good”, lets their only captive go; this loses him his place as a warrior for a second time. With a full scale battle looming, Queen Laithlin negotiates a duel of champions instead, since, even a victorious battle would leave Gettland easy pickings for the High King. But King Uthil is too sick to fight, so Laithlin selects Thorn as her Chosen Shield to fight in Gettland’s name. Thorn gives Grom-Gil-Gorm one hell of a fight, but it’s hard to kill a man mountain, and she loses the duel in the end. Her unwitting saviour is Mother Isriun, the High King’s representative, who crosses the line by ordering Gorm to kill her. Having grown tired of the High King’s commands, Gorm spares Thorn’s life, sells Mother Isriun into slavery, and forges an alliance with Gettland against the High King.
In the aftermath, Father Yarvi offers Brand a place as helmsman of his ship, with Rulf retiring to marry Thorn’s widowed mother. However, Brand calls-out Yarvi on all of the very morally questionable stuff he’s pulled – isn’t poisoning the King typically called high treason? He is happy assisting his sister at the forge, and asking Thorn to marry him. Meanwhile, Thorn poaches all Master Hunnan’s female students to teach them as Skifr taught her. There’s a war coming, afterall!
- "Fools boast of what they will do. Heroes do it." Queen Laithlin
- "A man who gives all his thought to doing good, but no thought to the consequences … that is a dangerous man." Father Yarvi
- "There's no disappointment like getting what you've always wanted." Thorn
- "Facing an enemy on the battlefield took courage, but you had your friends beside you. Standing alone against your friends, that was a different kind of courage." Brand
- "Grom-gil-Gorm, breaker of swords. maker of orphans ... your death comes!" Thorn
- "Lately a thief. But also an experienced killer! And navigator, wrestler, stargazer, explorer, historian, poet, blackmailer, brewer … I may have forgotten a few. Not to mention an accomplished amateur prophet! Add to all that my unchallenged expertise in …the romantic arts and you can see, my doves, there are few areas of interest to the modern girl in which I am not richly qualified to instruct your daughter." Skifr
- "There’s nothing like others’ successes to make your own failures sting the worse." Brand
- "Where do we find allies? Among our enemies, where else?" Father Yarvi
- "However grand the truth, it is never enough for the skalds, eh?" Grom-Gil-Gorm
- "You must be quicker to strike and quicker when you do. You must be tougher and cleverer, you must always look to attack, and you must fight without honour, without conscience, without pity." Skifr