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Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Review: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie (Reviewed by A. E. Marling)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read the first seven chapters HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Blade Itself
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Before They Are Hanged
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Best Served Cold
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Heroes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Red Country
Read first Fantasy Book Critic interview with Joe Abercrombie
Read second Fantasy Book Critic interview with Joe Abercrombie

ORIGINAL BOOK BLURB: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 that his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: If you’re looking for a gritty YA novel unburdened by romance, then you ought to read Half a King by Joe Abercrombie.

Prince Yarvi can’t wait to abdicate his right to the crown soon enough. His talents run more to making tea than impressing men. He will dodge the crown by joining a monkish order of advisors. Alas he would have, but for the murder of his father and brother that has hurled Yarvi onto the throne. 

He’d always been weak; but he never felt truly powerless until they made him king.”

His noble family treats him as if he’s not just a cripple but also deaf and dumb. His uncle says he would’ve made a fine jester. Yarvi’s mother tells him that between them both, “At least one of us must be a man.” And it’s her. A mastermind with eyes that spit icicles, she has plans to revolutionize coinage for her realm. If only her feeble son can stay in power. 

No one demeans Yarvi as much as himself. Like Tyrion in the books of A Song of Fire and Ice, Yarvi’s humor is self-deprecating. Every breath is embittered. He may be half a man, but he has a full man’s rage.

He swears an oath of vengeance against those who killed his father and brother. Then he sails to war on a boat rowed by slaves. The irony is not lost on him when he’s captured and becomes a galley slave himself. He escapes an assassination by scampering into enemy ranks. Pretending to be a nobody comes naturally to him, and the deception saves his life, which is sold for less than the price of a sheep.

I dislike having the protagonist in chains and powerless for so long. The most he can do with the iron collar around his neck is fraternize with his fellow bench mates. Rulf is a philosophical killer. “Life isn’t about deservings, so much as snatching what you can get.” Scar-lipped Sumael is a prized slave. A navigator, she reads the stars like a map and feels her way through the icy waters of the Shattered Sea.

The rest of the slaves are optimistic pink ducklings compared to the deck-scrubber. They call him Nothing. He shivers with hunger and rage. He’s forbidden to touch anything sharp. The last time he stole a knife, he killed more than one man and scarred the ship’s captain. 

The mistress of the merchant ship insists that the slaves are her family. How ungracious they would be to try to escape, how cruel to plot against her! With a sigh and a sweep of her plumed hat, the captain bemoans the weakness of her loving spirit. Generosity will be the death of her, she says, as she stomps over Nothing with her platform boots.

The captain reminds me of Joe Abercrombie’s previous character, the dreadful mercenary Nicomo Cosca. Perhaps it’s her drinking or that both have such infuriatingly believable pettiness and self-love. Joe Abercrombie crafts his characters not as black or white but various shades of blood-stained grey. We learn that one slave who betrays his fellows only does so to secure the wellbeing of his family. It’s not easy to point a finger at evil in Joe Abercrombie’s novels, in part because there’s so many who’ll cut off your hand.

I love the world building. Creepy messenger pigeons babble in human voices. A once-true-god was shattered into shards of divinity, each a minor being that can be worshipped. Even pillage-ready warriors stay away from the elf ruins. Their exhausted slaves gaze up to see constellations with evocative names: The Crooked Way, Stranger-Come-Knocking, and the Eater of Dreams.

Joe Abercrombie’s storytelling is more concise in Half A King and as sharp as ever with wit and deft prose. At one point, Yarvi has to wake up and “struggle on again with the splinters of his nightmares still niggling.”

To escape his imprisonment, Yarvi must also throw off his shackles of self-doubt. He grows as a character. He masterminds an ending so potent that I forgive his wallowing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sharpen my sword on the chains of lost kings, while eating a raw purple onion. Because I’m just that tough. I swear.

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: A.E. Marling is a fantasy writer, dancer, law-abiding citizen, human being (in that order). Discover his fantasy-appreciation blog and follow him on Twitter, @AEMarling, or the kitty gets it.


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