Literature / The Shattered Sea

"Let Father Peace worry over the methods. Mother War cares only for results."

The Shattered Sea Trilogy is a Young Adult Low Fantasy series by Joe Abercrombie, writer of the First Law. While it is noticeably less dark than his earlier novels, it's still a fairly grim series of books. The books take place in a Viking like society, with the focus on the wars and politics of the country of Gettland, and its threats from invaders from northern Vansterland and the manipulation of the High King in the south.

The first book, Half a King, deals with the coming of age of the crippled Yarvi, son of the dead king, who when betrayed and stripped of his rank, must fight to avenge his dead father, and slay all those who caused his death.

The second book, Half the World, deals with two new POV characters, Thorn and Brand, who follow Yarvi in his journey across the world to find allies against the High King.

The third book, Half a War, deals again with new POV characters, princess Skara, the warrior Raith, and Yarvi's apprentice Koll, as they fight the High King's armies to break free of his hold.

This work provides examples of :

  • Abusive Parents: Yarvi's father was extremely emotionally abusive toward him and at one point physically abusive toward him as well, until stopped by Yarvi's mother. Although Yarvi's mother cares for him, she has a very cold/distant attitude toward him, and at best, their relationship is more that of allies than mother and son.
  • After the End: The current civilization is built on the remnants of an earlier one which destroyed itself. The term "Shattered Sea" refers to a cataclysm which split continents and left some areas as uninhabitable Eldritch Locations. It is heavily implied throughout and essentially confirmed in the third book that the series takes place on Earth in the future and the cataclysm in question was a nuclear war.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Kings (Uthil and Grom-gil-Gorm) and military leaders (Bright Yilling) are also the best warriors in personal combat.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Bright Yilling from the third book, so-called because of his shinning, silver armor is a handsome man with a boyish face and charming manner... who is a death worshiping Psycho for Hire who loves combat against a worthy opponent, but is equally happy to massacre civilians and kill his own men when bored.
  • Fantasy Map: One is provided in each book, the second showing a greater amount of the world than the rest. Though it looks shockingly similar to the real life Baltic Sea, with the countries, cities, rivers and elf-ruins having names very similar to modern day locations. The first hint it is actually Earth
  • Gambit Roulette: Played with. At the end of the second book, Yarvi admits he has lots of plans in the works, and that very few actually worked how he planned - good luck and quick thinking allowed him to achieve what he needed to.
  • Genius Cripple: Yarvi has a crippled arm which prevents him from filling the traditional male (warrior) role but is extremely well-read, an accomplished orator, and extremely clever/cunning.
  • Grim Up North: Played straight. Though it could be argued the whole Shattered sea is a grim north.
  • Moral Event Horizon: In the third book Yarvi crosses this in the eyes of Koll when he allows the Shends to enslave the civilian population of Skekenhouse in exchange for helping him defeat the High King's army.
  • No Man of Women Born: Gorm-gil-Grom, King of Vansterland has a prophecy that says no man will kill him. So, surely shieldmaiden Thorn will be able to kill him, right? No, but it still works out - Thorn is nearly killed by the much more experienced Grom, but the envoy of the High King treats him as a servant one too many times ordering him to kill her. This causes Grom to snap, finally deciding he's willing to join Gettland to fight against the High King. Ultimately, Grom isn't killed by any man he's killed by being poisoned.
  • Pieces of God: Most people believe that God was split into 409 pieces by the elves. However, the Southern Religion claims that God is too powerful to be destroyed, and that there is still only one God, but with may facets, similar to the trinity in Christianity.
  • Precursors: The Elves, who have left remnants of buildings and magical items which are created from strange materials which cannot be duplicated. The Elves are actually humans and their magic is modern or slightly futuristic technology.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Yarvi in the first book is a cunning hero who can be somewhat ruthless, in the second book, he's acquired a somewhat sinister reputation and does some very morally questionable acts- but they don't seem that bad because all works out. By the end of the third book Yarvi is the villain of the series and is worse than the people he opposed, ruthlessly sacrificing his friends and everyone else in his obsession with revenge and self-validation.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Warrior kings and manipulative queens (or the inverse) is the norm. The one exception is the High King, who is just a puppet of Grandmother Wexen.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The otherwise savage Shends will offer this if you ask nicely. With the correct phrase. In their language, which barely anyone knows.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Raith has white hair (and is something of an accidental chick magnet) and is introduced as a vicious, dishonorable warrior with a Hair-Trigger Temper, who will follow any order, no matter how immoral. However, he ends up as a sympathetic figure due to his traumatic Dark and Troubled Past and desire to atone.