Warning: minor spoilers.
As a fantasy fan, I have been meaning to read some of Joe Abercrombie’s work for ages, and have had The Blade Itself on my TBR list since forever. However, I happened upon Half A King a couple of weeks ago and liked the look of it, so decided to give it a go. And I was not disappointed!
Half A King tells the story of Yarvi, the second and youngest son of the renowned warrior King Uthrik. Born with a badly deformed hand, he is a source of great disappointment to his father and his stern, powerful mother Laithlin, the Golden Queen, and instead of training to become a warrior like his older brother, he trains to become a minister – a kind of healer or wise man. However, this plan goes awry when his father and brother die suddenly, and he is forced to take his place as king…that is until a shocking betrayal sends him on a long, hard journey to reclaim the throne he never wanted in the first place.
Fans of Abercrombie’s previous work should note that Half A King is supposedly very different in tone from his famous First Law series. Although I have yet to read The Blade Itself (although I have just bought it, after enjoying this book so much!) it is supposedly quite gritty and violent (and is often associated with the ‘grimdark’ genre), whereas Half A King is more of a YA fantasy. I’m certainly looking forward to starting on The Blade Itself anyway, so that I can compare!
I truly enjoyed Abercrombie’s writing style, however much it differs from his previous work, and thought the world he had created in this book was incredibly vivid in its own bleak way. Whilst fantasy worlds are commonly set in a medieval-esque society, I thought the world of Half A King had more of a Viking feel, which made quite a nice change!
The characters in Half A King were also vivid and well written, particularly the band of fellow outcasts Yarvi befriends on his quest to take back the throne. ‘Nothing’ (which is the name of a character, in case you were confused!) in particular I found to be really intriguing, and I was keen to know his story. His gruff banter and competitiveness with Rulf (who I also loved!) was entertaining and humorous, yet there was definitely quite a dark, sinister side to him, as his answer to pretty much everything is violence, and he refuses to answer any questions about his origins.
I also liked that there was a lot of strong female characters in this book, even if they weren’t all exactly admirable. Yarvi’s mother in particular is a formidable woman, and one who exerts a huge amount of power throughout the kingdom, and I really enjoyed the development of her character. Whilst initially she is very cold towards Yarvi, and is almost disgusted by his existence, it gradually becomes clear that she does love and regard him after all.
The character of Shadikshirram was also quite a refreshing change to the typical roles of women in fantasy. As a viscous, drunken pirate captain she adopts a role usually occupied by male characters, and does it in a particularly memorable and unique fashion. For example, she has many strange character quirks, like her constant assertion that she is too kind and soft-hearted when she couldn’t be more the opposite.
Sumael was also a great female character as the tough, resourceful navigator who comes to lead the party Yarvi is a part of. I also liked that the ‘romance’ between her and Yarvi is pretty slow-burning, and doesn’t become all-encompassing as so often happens in YA fiction.
However, I feel like the character of Yarvi is the one place where the novel fell down a little. Whilst for the most part I liked him, there were a few parts after he reveals his true identity to his new found friends where I felt he got a bit high and mighty. It seemed like as soon as he said ‘I’m actually king’, he started giving orders, whereas one of the things I initially like so much about him was his humbleness, and the way he didn’t really want power, and instead only wanted to find the kind of kinship he had never had before.
However, this is a minor complaint in what was otherwise a very enjoyable read, with the many twists and turns keeping me interested until the very last page. In fact I got through this book in only a couple of days, reading a good half of it in one sitting because I enjoyed it so much! I would definitely recommend this book to my fellow fantasy fans, and I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel Half A World, as well as The Blade Itself.