Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Sunday, June 15, 2014
Title: Half a King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: fantasy
Series: Shattered Sea #1
Pages: 352
Published: Expected July 15, 2014
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 5 out of 5

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Reviewed by Danielle

"Oh I'm forever swearing oaths: I hardly know which ones to honor"

Prince Yarvi is the youngest son of a powerful warmonger king. What's worse, he was born crippled, with half a hand. Yarvi is a disappointment to his family, his country, and himself. And he's just been crowned. Instead of sitting the Black Chair and celebrating his betrothal, he makes a vow to avenge his father and brother.

Over the course of the book he acquires some unlikely companions, all of whom are amazing. There's the former guard, the mysterious swordsman, and the action girl that we've seen from countless other fantasy novels, but they all have depth and twists to keep them from being stock characters.

Half a King is a classic revenge tale, with shades of The Count of Monte Cristo, but it's also a fascinating character study in growth and coming of age. Yarvi from chapter one to the final pages is almost unrecognizable, yet in a brilliant stroke of writing, you'll find a lot of parallels from the first chapters in the last.

I'm loathe to reveal much of the plot, as there are some big twists, so what I really want to focus on and praise is Abercrombie's writing. The world building is fascinating, evoking Vikings and barbarians, but with very different religious influence. I would love to know why he decided to flip the traditional script and build almost a matriarchal institution with Mother War and Father Peace, Mother Sun and Father Moon. While the leaders are men, women wield terrific political power as both treasurer and chief advisers to the kings. I'm also very interested in the glimpses of the long dead Elf race, because (highlight for spoilers) they had rebar! It's VERY clearly described! And concrete? Steel? Possibly computer chips? Are we Elves? Joe, if you read this, DM me. I'll keep the answers under my hat. Thanks.

If I have one complaint, it's the book's size. For epic fantasy, it's pretty short and that does show in Yarvi and the companion's journey through the winter tundra. It's a very tense time that's supposed to be a struggle for survival, but because of the time devoted to the journey, I never felt the party's desperation. I wish there had even been one more chapter to ramp up the tension and make me feel the danger. Beyond that, I can't find fault.

I've been a fan of the idea of Joe Abercrombie for a long time. I always want to like his books more than I end up enjoying them. He's always been missing one element that would really cause me to connect with his characters. With Half a King, he's made a true believer of me. It's a master work and probably the fantasy novel of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Long dead elf race what what! I'm so excited to read this - it will actually be my first Joe Abercrombie even though I own a ton of his adult books.


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