Title: Half A King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Harper Voyager, paperback January 2015
Genre: YA Fantasy
My Rating: 4/5
The blurb says: “Betrayed by his family and left for dead, Prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted.
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 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..."
WHAT I THOUGHT
The crippled prince Yarvi has forever been the outcast. The youngest son of King Uthrik of Gettland, Yarvi has known he will never be the king his father was; he is, after all, half a man. At the death of his father and brother, Yarvi is forced to turn his back on the life as a minister he had hoped to lead and claim a throne he had never wished to sit upon. To gain some respect from a people who want him no more than he wants to lead them Yarvi swears an oath that will prove to be far harder to keep than anyone could have expected. The young prince finds himself betrayed at every turn. With a handful of loyal allies, Yarvi finds himself fighting for a life he never wanted, all in the name of an oath.
Joe Abercrombie did well for himself (and I suppose Harper Voyager had a lot to do with it) with puff from George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) on the front, and Robin Hobb (Fool's Assassin, the Farseer trilogy), Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind), and Derek Landy (Skullduggery Pleasant) on the back. But while this is his first outing into YA fiction, Abercrombie has already established himself as a 'grimdark' fantasy writer with his First Law trilogy.
Despite the fact that it took me an almost embarrassingly long time to read this book, I really enjoyed it. It's dark, but with well-timed light notes (coming from Rulf and Jaud, in particular). The characters all fit well with the world created around them; a familiar world - there are, to me, many similarities to the Viking world - but suitably 'other'. Abercrombie doesn't spend too much time describing the world and the history of it; it is all very much incorporated into the story and inferred by his characters. The religion, like many in fantasy, is polytheistic, a Tall God for the Sea, the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, War, and Peace and four-hundred small gods for everything in between. And, of course, a god of Death, who guards and guides the dead through the Last Door. The fight-scenes cannot go without a mention because, not only were they well-written they actually really intrigued me. WARNING: They are graphic! I found myself pulling all sorts of faces at my book on my morning commute. At one point I'm sure I gagged slightly on the train. But they are graphic in a way that brings to mind the likes of 300 or the Spartacus TV show (although I gave up on the latter quite swiftly because my eyes began to hurt from all of the rolling they were doing) - they are written in a very graphic novel film adaptation kind of style; you can almost imagine the blood sprays and the well-timed slow motion as you read. That may have just been me, though.
The characters are well-formed and follow easily; they never do anything that seems out of character. You get to watch Yarvi really grow during the course of the book after facing setback after setback and betrayal after betrayal. You first meet Nothing you're almost waiting to discover what it is he can do that made everyone on the ship fear him so. Then when you do about half way through the book you think he's surprised you as much as he can. But Abercrombie is not at all finished with Nothing yet (that twist! 5/5 for that twist!). The Golden Queen Laithlin is a queen to rival Cersei Lannister; my only criticism is that we really didn't see enough of her! I can only hope she features more in the next book: Half the World.
From the extract at the back of Half a King the second book in the Shattered Sea series, Half the World doesn't directly pick up from where this one left off. Which is exciting as it introduces new characters but is probably for the best seeing as I have at least 5 other books lined up to be read before I can revisit this series.
Overall I would definitely recommend this book. Abercrombie's decision to try his hand at YA was definitely a good one, and it was tremendously well-executed. Please don't be put off by the fact that this is YA; if you're new to fantasy it is the perfect introduction and if you're looking for something a bit smaller to carry around on the train than Abercrombie's 700+ page adult tomes without leaving the complex world that is fantasy fiction look no further. That said, his adult books have definitely been added to my wish list; they may just have to be in ebook form for ease of transport.
Thanks for reading,
Naomi Joy x