"The Half-Made World" is set in a very interesting setting. In history and technology level it is akin to 19th century America, but geographically is very different. The East ("the Old East", I think it is referenced somewhere) is more similar to England: a land of peaceful prosperity, colleges and law. The West, divided from East by a large mounting range, has been "discovered" few centuries ago. Before, it was "uncreated" land, a chaos. Now the line of creation is traveling further west, so land between is being settled. It is full of small towns and coalitions, except the two major forces. The Line is ruled by Engines, strong "spirits" embodied in train-like machines, that rule its vast land and people as a perfect machine or bureaucracy: every part of it is replaceable and only a number on paper. The Gun is its complete opposite. It is also ruled by spirits, but these are wild spirits than possess a body of a gun. These guns are carried by the Agents of the Gun, and they give them superhuman abilities like vision in dark, superb sense of smell, great strength, endurance, and healing abilities. But there is a catch - Gun can force Agent to do his will, and since most of the Agents are individualist (meaning criminals, gamblers and other shady men and women), inevitably there comes a conflict between the Agent and Gun that rides him. Usual Agent's activities are kidnapping blackmail and often murdering of innocent people (not mentioning killing the Linesmen), this chafes to even hardened criminal sooner or later. Just for a record, the Line and the Gun has been in state of constant war almost since Founding of first colonies in West.
In such world, we follow three main characters. Liv, or formally Dr. Lysvet Alverhuysen, is a professor on celebrated Koenigswald Academy in East, after recent death of her (much older) husband, embarks on a journey to West, to work in the House of Dolorous, a mental hospital for victims of war in West. John Creedmore is aged agent of the Gun, inactive for few years, spending his time with gambling and seducing young women (his specialty). Lowry, a relatively high-positioned member on army of the Line (meaning he is placed on top floor, in a small room with no windows - no distraction for his important work) is an ambitious Linesman (which he has to hide, because the system don't allow ambition), almost fanatical in his fight against the Gun. Creedmore and and Lowry are tasked with the same mission: to retrieve the supposedly death General Enver, founder of the Red Republic, the only entity that ever had some success in resisting both the Gun and the Line, who possibly has the weapon capable of destroying both the Line and the Gun. His current occupation and location: a patient in the House of Dolorous.
The book has a very interesting start and you are immediately drawn into its setting. At first, I was reminded to Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell", because of initial Liv's POV, but later I realized it is much more similar to China Miéville's New Crobuzon setting. Far from being its plagiarism, but it has the same feel. It is needless to say that I got hooked up after first three chapters.
Gilman makes his main characters also very interesting. You first feel for them, but as you read you start realizing that they are far from perfect. Lowry is conformist and fanatic, Liv is too-innocent and too above-all (pretentious even), while Creedmore is nice, but actually without conscience. Also, I was very surprised with death of one of the characters toward end of the book.
There is one part of setting that I forgot to mention in introduction: the Hillfolk. They are people of the unmade world, something like very thin Neanderthals. They are enslaved by people in West who use them for menial work. I found the part when Creedmore meets one of their shamans very interesting. For several reasons (connection with the dessert, the river, the old history), they reminded me much on Steven Erikson and his Eres'al.
The plot is interesting, but in some parts it is a bit predictable. For example, I found their first journey into unmade lands exactly as I expected. But in general, the book is interesting and I hope to learn more of its setting and character. Which I will be able, since there is sort of sequel, "The Rise of Ransom City".
All in all, "The Half-Made World" was a very interesting and exciting read. It was nice plot, very good characters and really excellent and original setting. I would recommend it to anybody, but especially to fans of China Miéville.