Review: “Shattered Sea” series by Joe Abercrombie

Holy moly, these books were good.

There’s nothing particularly original in either premise or plot. You’ve got a main character who feels oppressed despite being a straight white male in a position of enormous social privilege (though shoutout to Abercrombie for a great representation of the social impacts of disability), a vaguely-European-Medieval-ish world, some scheming courtiers, a grimdark Viking-inspired ocean adventure. a few big fights, and a secret identity. All tropes that have been done (and done, and done, and done, basically to death.

However, Abercrombie’s execution was, in my opinion, close to flawless. Originality comes in with some really exceptional minor characters (I especially enjoyed the “Golden Queen,” a truly unique figure in fantasy–though in history, medieval European noblewomen were indeed often the bookkeepers for their lands or even kingdoms). Even the parts that are a little too well-worn are written in a way that brings life to a familiar story. I found myself truly rooting for Yarvi and shocked by his transformation at the end of Half a King, even though if you’d asked me the plot in advance I could probably have told you every beat.

The following books are just as strong. Skara is, imo, the least interesting protagonist of the three, and Yarvi does suffer from some loss of complexity later in the series, becoming a stereotype of a cunning minister instead of the interesting, multifaceted character he was in “his” book. Other than these points, though, this is a truly exceptional epic fantasy series. I got this from the library, but hope to find my own copies soon (especially if I can get those gorgeous covers!)

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