Book Review · fantasy · reading

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

I got Half a King by Joe Abercrombie from NetGalley. There are some errors in the copy, but it’s an ARC and they’ll probably be fixed by time it’s published.

I found out that Half a King was a YA novel only a few chapters into the book. The main character is young, but I wouldn’t have twigged to its YA status if I hadn’t read it online. I will try not to spoil anyone. 😉

Back page summary from Amazon: 

“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.

 
I really like that line: I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath. It has a ring to it.

The main character, Prince Yarvi, is born crippled in a world that values only strength in its kings. One badly formed arm makes him a cripple, a half a man.

I have to ask: when was the last time you had a main character that was crippled from the get-go? Me, I can’t remember.

So, born unable to wield a weapon, Yarvi trains to become a minister. But his father and brothers are killed so he has to take the throne. He promptly declares war on those who killed his family. He is betrayed just as quickly. Then he vows to take back a throne he never really wants.

There is war and betrayal, all of it driven by politics.

But for all that Half a King isn’t a bleak book. Gritty, yes, but not bleak. I was expecting bleak; other Joe Abercrombie books are bleak. Perhaps that’s the YA effect. I am grateful; bleak books are so hard to read.

After the betrayal, Yarvi lives in harsh conditions. But he lives, and that’s more than his betrayer intended. He finds friends and companions that carry him to the end. His friends are all from different lands, different stations in life before they ended up together. They are all interesting, especially the one named Nothing.

My favorite part: the end.

The ending is a series of scenes, each dealing with a different character. Some of it I guessed from previous events. One part of the end, the most important part, I never guessed. It involved the betrayal of a character that I thought was trustworthy, that I thought fit into another role in the story. No. It was fantastic.

To reiterate: that one scene makes this book a standout. I will always remember that end. Always! It was perfect. Completely unexpected, but perfectly sensible, too.

My least favorite part: the middle.

This has less to do with sagginess in the middle – it has none! It is very sharp and tight in the middle! – and more to do because I thought briefly Yarvi himself was betraying everyone. It didn’t work out that way and I am glad. I was inspired to skim the end to reassure myself Yarvi was a character that I should root for. This, no doubt, is evidence of good storytelling.

Things I would like to know: more about the world.

The focus of Half a King is on Yarvi. That’s fine; he is the main character. But the companions are from other lands, and judging from them, the other lands are different. I am not even sure about the relationship between the other lands to Yarvi’s land. None of that is important to the story so it wasn’t included. But I still want to know.

I really, really liked Half a King and I am looking forward to the next one.

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10 thoughts on “Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

  1. I have this one too from Netgalley. It’s going to take a whole lot of willpower for me to wait to read it, I love Joe Abercrombie. Really looking forward to seeing what his YA would be like and this has been getting such good reviews.

  2. Bujold’s “Vorkosigan” series of sci-fi novels also feature a character who is crippled from birth in a society that values strength. It seems that he is always taking huge risks to prove his value to society and to his father, who is a war hero and powerful political leader.

    1. I hadn’t considered him because he was never missing any fingers. But he was born breakable in a society that values only strength. And, yeah, proving himself, despite his weak bones, was such an important part of what drove him.

      Here’s hoping this series turns out as good as that one did!

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