Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review - Half a King

Half a King – Joe Abercrombie

When Joe Abercrombie announced his next book would be a young adult series there were several cries of alarm in the fantasy community. Many expressed concern that the master of Grimdark would lose much of what made him such a great author.

Personally, I was not so worried. Abercrombie would still be the same writer and young adult just means less profanity and possibly less violence. Neither of these traits are what attracted me to Joe’s work. His young adult novels could still contain his great characterisation and humour.

The blurb:

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 itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
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.
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.
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…

Sometimes you just know you have something special in your hands. Half a King is such a book. Some fantasy novels can take several scores of pages to ingratiate themselves to the reader. The world building can be highly complex and the vast cast of characters can leave you feeling overwhelmed until you hit that moment where it all clicks and falls into place.

From the opening pages, Half a King works. The world building is subtle and effortless. Yarvi is a character you can’t help but instantly like. Born with only one good hand, he is persistently derided by his peers and shunned by his subjects, to the extent that he is preparing to shy away from the public life and become a Minister. 

The great thing about Yarvi is not that he is a cripple and therefore an underdog, nor that he is witty (we have seen that type of character before in Tyrion), it is his humanity. He genuinely feels remorse when others suffer and always searches for an alternative to violence.

His story arc is a joy to read as he organically matures and learns through some very harsh experiences how to cope in the world. Although he is betrayed and swears an oath of vengeance, Abercrombie is careful not to make this the only focal point of his story.

The supporting cast is exemplary. From the noble Nothing who has his own unique code of honour, the loyal Sumael and her love of the shattered sea, Mother Gundring who acts as a substitute parent to Yarvi and Shadikshirram, the drunk and deluded captain.

I could list countless others who entertain but perhaps the most complex of these is the storekeeper Ankran. Abercrombie creates characters you want to spend time with. Yarvi’s friends are your friends, his enemies become people you want to hunt down and kill yourself.

The plot is fantastic. Abercrombie weaves a tale of retribution, the hero’s journey, coming of age and friendship all within a short space. Yet at no point did I feel cheated or felt that the book needed to be fleshed out.

In fact it is very hard to think of any negative things to say about Half a King.  If I was being really nit-picky, occasionally the battle scenes were a little confusing.  Some of the actions such as Yarvi putting his stump under an enemies armpit but at the same time pinning the arm I found a little hard to picture, but this in no way detracts from my enjoyment of the novel.

The ending is superb. Plot threads are resolved, no character is left hanging and there are twists a plenty. The twists are the kind that make you slap your forehead for not seeing them and make complete sense.

Overall, Half a King is fantastic. It might even be my favourite Abercrombie book to date and that is saying something. The best part is we also don’t have long to wait for the sequel.

My rating 9.3