Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Synopsis from GoodReads:
Betrayed by his family and left for dead, Prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted.
But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself – all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, traps and tragedy…
I had a surprising amount of trouble putting this book down, so let’s start this review off with a huge kudos to Abercrombie for pacing. I never felt bored while reading, even though I had a pretty good idea where everything was going from an early point. The tropes pointed the way, but Abercrombie made following that path enjoyable and engaging.
On the other hand. Am I the only one who’s read this and noticed a similar feeling to Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns? Anybody? …Bueller? Okay then. Well, thematically and in feel/tone/setting, this reminded me of what little I got through of PoT (a book I do plan to eventually give another visit). Not necessarily a bad thing, and I’m trying to avoid comparisons, but I did feel a definite similarity between the two.
Abercrombie is known for writing in the grimdark genre of fantasy, apparently. As this is the first of his books that I picked up, I wouldn’t call it that. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that it wasn’t technically labeled as such. Apparently, Half a King is YA Fantasy. And…well. It’s not as dark as some YA, and it does follow Yarvi’s journey from young man (mid-to-late teens? We don’t get an exact age) to adult. So in my defense, it was in the sci-fi/fantasy section of my library, not the YA section.
When I say it’s not grimdark, don’t get me wrong – it’s still fairly dark. Betrayal, making the least evil of evil choices – or at least the least evil in regards your own survival and goals – and, of course, the fact that this entire book is a journey of vengeance… Yeah, it’s dark. But it’s not as bleak as grimdark fantasy gets. Which isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it definitely works in Half a King. After all, who wants to read a story where you think the protagonist won’t get his revenge? Well, okay, I can think of a few times when you would root against that, but not in this case!
At its heart, Half a King is about Yarvi’s journey. While it seems to be a full circle, the man at the end is not the boy at the beginning. His journey is engaging, his companions are fully-fleshed, and the world is large and interesting.
4 out of 5 stars. Not for those who like their fantasy fluffy and escapist.
(And with this book apparently being YA, so much for my decision to avoid YA until September at the earliest… TBF, at least this one didn’t have the tropes that made me decide to step away from YA)