by The Wanderer
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Shattered Sea Book OnePages: 354
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(An advanced copy was provided by the publisher).
After writing the First Law Trilogy, arguably the bleakest series in adult fantasy, and simultaneously destroying reader expectations with a book so hopeless it made people lose hope in humanity, Joe Abercrombie has decided to take his writing talents to the young adult book market.
Half A King is new territory for the author, but he makes the adjustments that allow for this book to be a fast paced bout of entertainment, while still retaining an incredibly cynical worldview. Fans of the author will not be disappointed, while newcomers will revel in its misery. This is classic Abercrombie, and Half A King is a promising start to a new trilogy.
In a Viking inspired world called Shattered Sea, Yarvi inherits the throne to a small kingdom after the murder of his father and older brother. With a only one hand, he’s seen as only half a man or half a king. Yarvi swears vengeance on the murderers of his family with a sacred oath. Along the way he meets new friends, gains new enemies, and learns harsh lessons about what it means to have power.
Compared to the First Law Trilogy, Half A King is less grotesque with it’s violence; it doesn’t go into detail with any sex scenes; and it retains a slightly more hopeful presence … meaning some characters do get what they deserve, which was an absolute rarity in First Law. However, at the same time the classic staples of Abercrombie’s writing are still here: characters are constantly compromising their morals, characters are often hypocrites, it can be difficult to tell friend from foe, there is a deeper questioning of the world the characters live in and by extension the world we live in, and there are a number of twists in the plot leading to mostly unexpected outcomes.
Yarvi is the main character. He’s an insecure teenager who’s just inherited the right to sit on the Black Chair and rule over this small, but violent kingdom of warriors. With a crippled hand, he’s perceived as weak, and prior to inheriting the throne he was going to be a minister. It’s an incredibly dangerous and tense situation from the get go, and Abercrombie wastes no time in pushing the plot forward with a couple of plot twists that completely change the game.
Rounding out the strong characters are Yarvi’s mother, Laithlin, a successful diplomat and great financier, but a cold-hearted woman. Odem is Yarvi’s uncle, he’s always treated Yarvi well. Nothing (that’s the character’s name) is an expert swordsman with a mysterious past. Isriun is Odem’s daughter and Yarvi’s betrothed. She plays a smaller role in this novel, but she is set up to expand into a much more prominent role by the book’s end.
There is very little to not like about the story. The only bigger thing that bothered me though, was a major plot twist at the end of the book, which didn’t feel right at the moment it was revealed. However, it does lead to a very interesting conclusion that’s not only unexpected, but could lead to some promising “what if’s” in the upcoming sequels. I understand this is a young adult novel, but I felt this book could have benefited from being a little bit longer, which would have helped me catch my breath as the story flies from one intense situation to the next.
A lot happens in this short novel. The pace is brisk, even by young adult standards, and the chapters are incredibly short. Expect to be up later than you planned. If you like fast paced, dark, and gritty fantasy Half A King comes highly recommended.