July 16, 2014 by mmileti
I have read every novel previously published by Joe Abercrombie, and I have to admit that I am a huge fan of his writing. If you are familiar at all with Abercrombie’s work, you will be aware that he writes decidedly “adult” fantasy. His gritty realism and violent scenes are what originally made his novels stand out in in my mind. His stories are filled with antiheroes, vast wars, and intrigue, which would not be unique without the brutal practicality with which he approaches both his characters and plot. Nothing is sugarcoated in his novels, and it seems as if he turns clichés on their head at every turn. So you can imagine that when I found out Abercrombie’s next book would be a young adult (YA) fantasy, I did not know quite what to expect, and I was even a bit apprehensive. What would Abercrombie’s writing be like without the vicious darkness for which he is known best? I should have had more faith in his ability to push the boundaries of a genre, because Half a King includes all the elements of Abercrombie’s other books that his fans have come to love so much. The only difference in this book is the addition of the themes that lay at the heart of the YA genre: coming of age, a protagonist who is some way an outsider, and adventure.
Half a King is told from the perspective of Yarvi, a young prince who was born with only one good hand. Yarvi lives in a society that is reminiscent of the Vikings; a warlike culture in which a true man is one who can stand tall in battle and be a shield bearer for his brothers in arms. Because of his hand, Yarvi will never be able to carry a shield or swing an axe. He has always been a weakling in the eyes of his countrymen, his family included. When he abruptly finds himself a King, a destiny he never expected as a second son, he soon realizes that not even his sharp wit will convince his subjects he is strong enough to rule. He soon finds his throne taken from him and is shortly after sold into slavery. But instead of finding himself defeated, he vows to reclaim the throne he never wanted, take revenge on those who have harmed him, and prove his strength despite having only one good hand.
This is a really fantastic novel, and although it has slightly less violence and profanity, is just as realistic and gritty as Abercrombie’s other novels. In fact, I found that Half a King contained just as much (if not slightly more) thought provoking material and meaningful content than is found in the First Law trilogy and the corresponding stand-alone novels. I also found it refreshing to read a story that takes place in a different world than the rest of his work. And even though so far the world is quite as expansive, Abercrombie leaves plenty of room for future exploration and expansion in future novels. There are also several tantalizing mentions of the history of Yarvi’s world that I absolutely cannot wait to read more about.
In this novel Abercrombie tackles a tough subject, a young man who struggles to overcome his physical disadvantage, and he does it with no censorship whatsoever. He drops his protagonist into a world that detests what they perceive as physical weakness, and puts him through trials that any person would struggle to overcome. Yarvi is the ultimate outcast teenager, who is not only shunned by his peers, but by his own parents, and even by an entire country. It is hard enough for any person to be a teenager, but for Yarvi it is almost impossible. He lives in a world where there is no such thing as “politically correct,” or “polite society,” and is instead faced with the darkest facets of human nature, where a “survival of the fittest” attitude runs rampant.
If you are a fan of Abercrombie’s who is hesitant to pick up Half a King because of its YA label, I assure you that your uncertainty is unfounded. On the other hand, if you have failed to pick up his novels in the past for fear that they were too violent for your taste, I greatly urge you to give this novel a try. This may just be the perfect novel to ease you into Abercrombie’s distinctive writing style. It is a book that should please both established fans and new readers.
So, I am going to go ahead and rate this book a 9.5/10. It is excellent. Seriously. Read it!
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.