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Joe Abercombie: Is He Really Half a King?

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie - A book review

One day, I found myself having nothing to read. An emergency had forced me to sleep at a relative's place, and thus finished the book I had been reading at the time. So, when I went to work, and while manning the desk, I had nothing to read between the minutes where there was no one seeking my assistance (I work in a library - be jealous).

Having left my other books at home, I ventured to the shelves in search of a good read. After walking up and down the Science-fiction & Fantasy section, my eye fell upon Joe Abercrombie's Half a King. It was a large print copy, which suited me just fine with my "mole vision". I'd heard of the book before and wondered what it was doing in that section when it should be in the Teen Zone with all the other Young Adult literature.

I decided to read it, after removing it from where it was, and to my surprise, devoured it! So let's get into why I did.

Book Details

To get the bibliographic details outta the way, Half a King is written by Joe Abercrombie, who previously wrote the First Law Trilogy. It was published by HarperCollins in 2014 and is classified as Young Adult fiction.

It's set in a fictional realm where kings rule small countries and, more often than not, make war on each other. Slavery is prevalent throughout this world and surviving is a struggle.

While the plot is fairly common in other stories, the writing style isn't simplistic. It's rich in delectable words and vocabulary, and witty dialogue. The names remind me of old Norse mythology, and it's no wonder, as the following books will reveal. The action is fast paced, and while there were some parts that could have moved along faster, there were no boring moments. It felt like reading historical fiction.

What Happens in this Story?

Second Prince Yarvi, destined for a life as a simple minister (advisors to kings), is thrust onto the king's throne when his father and older brother are killed in an attack. Life as a minister meant he had to give up his ties to the royal family, which was something he wanted. So when Yarvi ascends the throne, he is reluctant, even more so because of his deformity. He becomes the King of Gettland but is betrayed, when those closest to him try and kill him. Believed dead, Yarvi flees. Alone and in foreign territory, Yarvi is captured and made a slave oarsman on a merchant ship. There, he plots his revenge, gathering a group of unlikely friends who may, or may not be able to help him succeed.

The Characters

Yarvi - The second prince of Gettland. He was to become a minister (advisors to kings) and abdicate his royal inheritance. But the death of his father and older brother forced him to ascend the throne. Initially, he is outwardly timid and self-conscious as a result of his deformed hand. His father is disgusted with him, and his mother disappointed. His brother only takes a mild interest in him. His deformity means he is ridiculed by many courtiers and nobles, and thus he always feels inferior to others. During his journey, he learns to overcome this by using things he is better at.

Laithlin - Yarvi's mother and Queen of Gettland. She is a stern and unforgiving woman and also holds the position of treasurer to the kingdom. She holds the key to the treasure room itself. Laithlin has a cunning mind, putting it to good use making the kingdom prosper. She is frustrated with Yarvi's weakness and ineptitude. Her shrewd financial mind and fierce personality are well known throughout the lands of the Shattered Sea.

Odem - Yarvi's uncle and the King's brother. Of all Yarvi's relatives, Odem is the only one who shows Yarvi kindness and love. He teaches Yarvi sword skills as well. Beneath his strong and kind personality, Odem is a warrior with dark secrets and intentions.

Nothing - One of Yarvi's fellow slave shipmates. He is treated the worst of all the slaves. But a long-held secret and fearsome warrior skills make him pledge allegiance to Yarvi while keeping close his own goals.

Sumael, Jaud, Rulf & Ankren - Fellow slave shipmates of Yarvi's. While Jaud and Rulf are oarsmen, Sumael is the ship's navigator and Ankren is the storekeeper. With a shared goal of freedom, they band together with Yarvi on his journey.

Ideas and Themes of the Story

Yarvi's struggle for survival is a strong theme in this book. His determination and perseverance through difficult circumstances, forming bonds with unlikely and in some cases dangerous people, as well as how adverse conditions force Yarvi to change in order to survive and succeed. It is a coming-of-age story at its core.

My Response

Oh, I loved the book! The witty, bracing dialogue filled with bantering proverbs, the grim, fierce world that the characters live in. The straightforward manner of certain characters, and the sly deviousness of others.

It is a simple plot, but it doesn't end at that. The characters drive the story, Yarvi especially. He strives to right the injustice done to him, and in doing so, suffers and learns from the world he is thrown into as a slave, becoming a man in the process.

I disliked the fact that slavery is prevalent throughout this world and that the main character isn't actively trying to change this situation. Slavery is taken as given, even the former slaves do not feel that it needs to end. I was initially irritated by Yarvi's weakness as well, having no drive to be better. Not standing up to his parents. But I suppose this is something a lot of adolescents go through, and eventually learn to stand up for themselves. The dialogue, violence, and gore are not necessarily appropriate for young teens, so I'd recommend this for ages 16 and up.

So all in all,a good, quick read. I am definitely gonna read the sequels. I give it 6 out of 10 Pulses. If you would like to read something similar, I recommend books like The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan, and The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman (though this is for older readers please! Thank You!)

Until next time.

Wesley Jade

Author of There's A Prince in the Kitchen, A Certain Strange Wolf, & Avalon Moving On

Author of CEA Writers without Boundaries short story Fatal Performance