Joe Abercrombie | HALF A WAR

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Best known for THE FIRST LAW trilogy, JOE ABERCROMBIE published HALF A KING in 2014, the first book in his new SHATTERED SEA series, which won the 2015 Locus Award for best Young Adult book. We caught up with him to find out more about the last book in this series, HALF A WAR...

STARBURST: Tell us all about Half a War
Joe Abercrombie: Well, war is a theme, as you might imagine! The shattered sea is ruled by a High King and more specifically, by his ruthless minister Grandmother Wexen, and she has pushed and maneuvered various nations around the sea so that they have no choice but to go to war. Gettland and their ally and once rival Vansterland are threatened by a wide confederation of the High King and his allies. So Father Yarvi brings some allies together in an attempt to succeed against impossible odds.

Why the multiple points of view throughout the series?
I like that breadth, and I like having different points of view and threads to follow in a fantasy book.  The idea with these books was to be quite tight in the focus; to be quite short and fast. To have the pace of a thriller, if you like. To try to do epic fantasy with a driving, forward pace; by splitting each book into many different threads and characters. I thought it would be interesting to start from one character’s point of view only then to bring in two different characters in the second book. Half a War has three inter-related plot lines, although the characters in the previous books are very much there in the background. It also gave me the opportunity to move time forward between each book but to keep the protagonist in that age range of sixteen to eighteen that I was aiming for. I think changing the characters just gives a different tone and flavour to each book, keeping it all interesting and varied. It also allows us to see the characters we knew very well in previous books from the outside.

Did you have each character’s story arcs plotted out in advance?
Up to a point. Certainly Yarvi is the central character of the first book and then he’s more in the background in the other two, but the arc of the three together is very much a story about him. That arc was very much set from the start, and I had a good idea where that was going. With the other individual characters that were then introduced  during the books, I didn’t have precise idea at the start of the series where they would all end up, but I had a rough idea what the overall back story would be. They fitted in to that bigger story. I tend to have a rough idea what the book will be and then I will plan each book as I come to start writing it. As I go through the book, I’ll get a better and better idea of where I’m going. It’s really in the revision. Once I’ve finished the first draft of a book, I really strip it down so I can do a focused plot and get a good idea of what the characters will be. It’s good to have a guiding direction and a plan. If you start with no plan you can easily wander off into nowhere and it’s hard to find your way back.

The Shattered Sea series is aimed at Young Adults. Why?
This series developed out a conversation I had with Nick Lake, who is an editor of Young Adult books at Harper Collins. He liked my adult stuff and wanted me to write some YA books. That idea hung around for a while, and took me a few years to have the time and an idea that would work. I think when writing for younger readers, I wasn’t trying to get into a particular category as such, I was just trying to write the sort of book that I would have liked and read at age 14 to 16. I wanted it to have the same edge and moral ambiguity as the books I write for adults. I wanted it to be challenging and not talk down to the audience at all. At the same, I’d written very bloody and nasty scenes in my adult work. I didn’t want to repeat that style. I wanted it to be distinct and different.

What’s next for you?
Good question. There’s always something, isn’t there? When Half a War comes out, I’ll be touring and doing a lot of events. I’ve got a collection of short stories in The First Law world that will probably come out sometime next year. It’s looking like it’s going to be more adult books in The First Law world. I’ve got a trilogy that I owe to Gollancz, so at some point I need to get started with that. I’ve already some idea as to what it is, but it’s pretty vague at the moment. There’s a few other irons lurking in the fire that might end up taking up some time, as they always do.

Do you think your stories would work in other media? As a TV show perhaps?
Would I like to see them turned into a television series with the depth and success of Game of Thrones? Yeah, I think that’s not a tough one to say yes to. Obviously, it would give a huge boost to the books as well and that can be no bad thing. Of course, things aren’t always adapted well and you can’t really control what happens when you set these things in motion. You can try and sell the rights to the right person and hope the right people get involved and that they respect the books. But it’s an ensemble effort in a way that writing a book never is. You’ll never have that control, so you just have to roll the dice and trust to luck. I’d welcome anything that made me stratospherically successful and enabled me to have a toilet seat carved from a single massive diamond.

You’re known as Lord Grimdark. How did that come about?
The grimdark thing is something that happened to me long after the fact. I’ve heard it used four or five years ago to describe something that was absurdly pessimistic and almost laughable. Then people started using it to describe things like Game of Thrones. It’s become a much more general descriptor. I never really set out to be one thing or another, I just set out to write the things I wanted to write. Because I’d read a lot of shiny and optimistic fantasy I wanted to do something different. I felt a lack of grit and darkness in it. So I ended writing something quite cynical and gritty. It was an interesting contrast to what I’d read. I think grimdark has become more popular and has lost some of its impact.

You’d hate to become predictable for doing one sort of thing. It’s important to try different things and keep people guessing!

HALF A WAR is out now. You can find out more about the author at

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0 #1 ColinJ 2015-08-03 18:12
All Hail Lord Grimdark!!

As a huge fan of Joe's other books I was skeptical about him writing a 'YA' series. But I needn't have worried. Those books are still extremely exctiting, violent and intense.

He didn't lose much grimdark goodness in translation. In fact, it's the most focused and tight his writing has ever been.

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