HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie — a Review

Full disclosure: This was my first book by Joe Abercrombie. I know, I know. Unpardonable crime. I’ve had THE BLADE ITSELF in my “to be read” pile for quite some time, and I’ve quite enjoyed several interviews with Lord Grimdark, so when I got a chance to read HALF A KING, I jumped at it.

I know there was some concern about Abercrombie entering the YA field, but HALF A KING doesn’t read like a typical YA novel. Yes it focuses on a teenage boy. Yes it is a coming of age story. But there is minimal romance, and the novel did not spend inordinate amounts of time inside the protagonist’s head. I wouldn’t hand it to someone saying, “Here, read this. It’s great YA.” Instead, I’d say, “Here, read this. And if you like this, there’s a lot more fantasy where this came from.”

HALF A KING is the story of Yarvi, a double cursed prince: he’s a second son, deep in the line of succession, and he was born with a crippled left hand. In Yarvi’s Viking-like home of Gettland, a hand like that means he can’t hold a shield or sword, tie or knot, or lead. He would be a terrible king, so he’s studying to be a Minister, ready to give up the throne and family for a life of knowledge. Until his father is betrayed and murdered, along with his older brother.

Yarvi takes the throne, but holds it only for a moment before he is betrayed by his uncle, nearly murdered, sold into slavery, and then turned into a galley slave. But in that moment, Yarvi swears an oath to take revenge on those who murdered his father and brother. And the desire to fulfill that oath drives Yarvi out of his enslavement, around nearly half the Shattered Sea, and back home to Gettland. He may not have two hands, but his mind is sharper than most blades.

Don’t worry, Abercrombie fans. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There is darkness and violence in this story. Both good and bad people die. Yarvi makes plenty of mistakes, and pays for them. But for you concerned parents out there, unlike Abercrombie’s other books, there’s no sex. And the violence isn’t any more explicit than a lot of other entry-level fantasy.

And this is great fantasy, for new readers or old fans. It’s exactly what I want in a summer read: fun, exciting, page turning. I was able to predict a few elements of the ending, but Abercrombie was able to twist the reveal in a way that prevents the story from deflating and losing momentum.

This is definitely one of those “Just a few more chapters before bed” books, and I’m currently paying the price in extra cups of coffee. But I don’t regret it. This was a great read, and I highly recommend it.