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I Belong


Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a KingTitleHalf a King

AuthorJoe Abercrombie

Genre: YA Fantasy

Series: Shattered Sea (Book #1)

Publication Date: July 15, 2014

FormatHardcover, 352 Pages

ISBN-100804178321 (Del Rey/Random House)

ISBN-13: 978-0804178334 (Del Rey/Random House)

Reviewed by: Kelly

Synopsis:

“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 his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Quick & Dirty: I was truly impressed with the evolution of Abercrombie’s main character in this first installment. Half a King is everything I want in a YA Fantasy – adventure, humor, surprises and lovable characters. I’ll definitely be checking out Abercrombie’s other work as I wait impatiently for Book 2 of the Shattered Sea Series.

Opening Sentence: There was a harsh glare blowing on the night Yarvi learned he was a king. Or half a king, at least.

ExcerptYes

The Review:

It’s not often that an author takes a chance on a character who doesn’t conform to the normal hero (or even anti-hero) standards. Even in the majority of the Fantasy genre, there’s little deviation from the typical stereotypes. Elves are beautiful strong-backed warriors and intellectually superior. Dwarves are hunched greedy creatures skilled at working with various materials. There are very few heroes with physical deformities – and even fewer who emerge from their trials as a morally darker character than in the beginning. Abercrombie took that chance with Half a King and it paid off.

Born into a society of warriors with a maimed hand unable to carry a shield, Yarvi is used to disappointing others. There hasn’t been a day since his birth where his father, King Uthrik, and mother, Queen Laithlin, hasn’t cursed his existence. Even his older brother is embarrassed to have the boy with half a hand in their famed warrior family. His attachment to Mother Gundring, his father’s Minister, and Odem, his father’s brother, is the only bright spot in Yarvi’s life of shadows and bitter shame. Thanks in large part to them, Yarvi has grown to be an intelligent, resourceful and observant young man despite his father’s hard fists and mother’s cold indifference. In fact, Mother Gundring had such influence over him that Yarvi decided to give up his title and become a Minister.

Only a few short hours away from turning control of his life over the Ministry, Yarvi’s only chance at happiness is ripped away with the death of his father and older brother. Supposedly killed in an ambush by Grom-gil-Gorm, their country’s long-standing enemy, Yarvi is thrown into a position he never wanted and feels ill-prepared to step into. It’s in this moment that Abercrombie’s skill as a writer emerges. Yarvi’s terror, doubt and deep sadness is a potent combination and I found myself tearing up over his situation. He’s a young child who’s never known the love of his parent, who’s been told all of his life that he’s nothing – or half of nothing – and now he’s responsible for leading a country that doesn’t believe in him and certainly doesn’t want a cripple on the throne. Which only makes Yarvi’s determination to avenge his father and brother’s deaths that much more admirable. With Odem’s help, Yarvi gathers his Gettland army and sets sail to attack their enemy Grom-gil-Gorm in Vansterland.

Then, a devastating betrayal once again turns Yarvi’s world upside down. Even though it’s only been a short amount of time since his terrorized ascension to the throne, Yarvi is a quick learner. He’s better prepared to handle the disastrous situation he finds himself in and his fast thinking is the only thing that saves him. If you can call being bought as a slave the same as being saved. Still, Yarvi clings to the only piece of advice his mother ever gave him: There’s always a way. Even if it means sacrificing those few friends he’s finally found in order to fulfill his vow to a family who hated him.

Though it’s considered a YA Fantasy, Half a King reminded me of the adventure and character complexities found in the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. There are gut-wrenching betrayals. There’s adventure and innocence. In fact, Gettland and Vansterland in Half a King could very easily fit into the Game of Thrones universe. However, as with that series, the characters are the true element that makes Half a King standout above others in the Fantasy genre.

Abercrombie may use his words sparingly, but what he does say leaves an impact. He excels at creating personalities that jump off the page. Yarvi’s evolution from innocent child to calculating leader is made all the more fascinating because of how people reacted to his so-called deformity. His transformation wasn’t a straight line – there were peaks and valleys as circumstances changed. Abercrombie didn’t shy away from making Yarvi a darker character and I’d be lying if I said I liked the Yarvi at the end of the book. I didn’t, even though I appreciated why he changed. Power corrupts and the thirst for revenge twists people’s hearts until there’s very little innocence left. This overarching plot gave me more insight into the character’s personalities than pages of tedious description ever could. The same can be said for Abercrombie’s world building: it’s the details he chooses to include that make the landscape such a vivid environment.

I think most Fantasy fans – regardless of age – will find something to like in this character-driven and engrossing story because Half a King is amazingly multi-layered. There’s the superficial tale younger readers will enjoy: a young boy’s adventure in a magical world. But dig deeper and you’ll find a story about the values of self-worth, friendship and perseverance in the face of cruelty and injustice. This is definitely a story I’ve already recommended to all of my friends and I can’t wait to see what the next book brings to this extraordinary world.

Notable Scene:

They flung Yarvi down with unnecessary violence between two other slaves, by no means an encouraging pair. At the end of the oar was a hulking southerner with a thick fold of muscle where his neck should have been, head tipped back so he could watch the seabirds circling. Closest to the rowlock was a dour old man, short and stocky, his sinewy forearms thick with gray hair, his cheeks full of broken veins from a life in the weather, picking at the calluses on his broad palms.

“Gods damn it,” grunted this older one, shaking his head as the guards chained Yarvi to the bench beside him, “we’ve a cripple at our oar.”

“You prayed for help, didn’t you?” said the southerner, without looking around. “Here is help.”

“I prayed for help with two hands.”

“Be thankful for half of what you prayed for,” said Yarvi. “ Believe me, I prayed for none of this.”

The big man’s mouth curled up a little as he looked at Yarvi sidelong. “When you have a load to lift, you’re better lifting than weeping. I am Jaud. Your sour oarmate is Rulf.”

“My name’s Yorv,” said Yarvi, having turned his story over in advance. Keep your lies as carefully as your winter grain, Mother Gundring would have said. “I was a cook’s boy-“

With a practiced roll of the tongue and twitch of the head the old man spat over the ship’s side. “You’re nothing now, and that’s all. Forget everything but the next stroke. That makes it a little easier.”

Jaud heaved up a sigh. “Don’t let Rulf grind the laughter out of you. He’s sour as lemons, but a good man to have at your back.” He puffed out his cheeks. “Though, one must admit, since he’s chained to your side, that will never happen.”

Shattered Sea Series:

1. Half a King

2. Half the World (February 3, 2015)

3. Half a War (Autumn/Fall 2015)

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FTC Advisory: Del Rey/Random House provided me with a copy of Half a King. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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