Book Title Half a King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Number of pages: 336
But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself – all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, traps and tragedy…
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Familiar fantasy setting that draws from medieval influences
– Protagonist feels like a teeny bopper version of Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones fame
– Plotting/twists can be predicted with the right skepticism but the provocative writing, clever dialogue, and well-paced action made for an enjoyable experience
– A coming-of-age tale with complex characters who are not pawns to the protagonist’s story
– I would imagine Abercrombie’s grocery list is quite eloquent…
A highly anticipated read (back in 2014) that actually pans out right.
Yarvi wasn’t much of anything. Outcast since birth, he has lived in the shadows training to become a minister. When death befalls his home—his father and brother killed in battle—Yarvi is thrust onto the throne as the rightful king. But how can he rule a kingdom with only one capable hand? How can he be king when he’s sinking deeper in The Shattered Sea, miles from the throne?
The Shattered Sea, as a world, evokes a sense of familiarity. It’s strangely medieval with undertones of Norse history or some Viking/Pirate-esqe influence. Everything evokes bleakness as the landscapes are surrounded by snow and water. I loved the nuance and cult-like personalities based on region of habitat but it wasn’t anything standout and different from what you’d find in other popular fantasies with castles and kings and Gods alike. I think this is one of those cases that the world doesn’t complicate the plot and is just an accessory to the story. There are avenues for future exploration in the sequel but I guess I was just hoping for more.
If you can successfully guess the twists from clues provided—suggesting a highly predictable plot—is the story still one that can be enjoyed?
I knew shit would hit the fan but I wasn’t mad.
Why? Credit goes to Abercrombie’s writing; his precise yet provocative diction which at times—admittedly—did confuse me as he gave life to a system of beliefs and Gods alike. Think of the metaphorical nature of the Many-Faced God in Game of Thrones but add like thirty more into the mix. Like…if Abercrombie wrote a shopping list, I’m sure it’d be nuanced to all hell as a banana would be aptly renamed the Father of Moving Life (because potassium equals electrolytes). But I digress.
Point is: while predictability differs per reader, what remains absolute is the power in language that comes off the page. This dude can write.
Add that to the spectacular pacing and boom you have one memorable story that literally follows half a man’s journey around one giant ocean that peaks in all the right places in plotting.
Abercrombie has immaculately nuanced the shit out of character ambition and paints a non-binary heroism. That’s what was so enjoyable. Villains aren’t inherently bad as much as heroes aren’t simply do-gooders. There is strength, resilience, and cunningness to be found in most characters, fully motivated by selfishness to survive. There is no path too easy and the coming-of-age exploration is penned so effortlessly in Yarvi’s character and his conflict that makes rooting for him so easy.
Yarvi is the teeny bopper version of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones (note: I’ve only watched GOT). His main crutch is the physical deformity he’s reminded of constantly and he isn’t the bearer of hard skills so many heroes are imbued with. His power stems from knowledge and emotional intelligence to manipulate words to bring him another day. He rightfully struggles to make the right call and his development thrives on him trying to be the best can be.
The ensemble is rounded out with badass misfit-y characters that were equally enjoyable to read as they weren’t typecast to a pawn’s role. They’re self aware enough to seek their own gains; which is basically a middle-finger to the only-heroes-get-the-glory trope.
Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King is a mostly self-contained standalone featuring a clever lead character in Yarvi and a page-turning conflict. As a first time experience to Abercrombie’s titles, I was certainly not disappointed by his writing despite the predictability in plotting. The Shattered Sea is what you would expect out of the epic/high fantasy genre and it’s ultimately in the characterisations and narrative intent in diction that makes this first installment a winner.