Book Review: "Half a King" by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Surprises come in different shapes and sizes. In literature there are those that come out of the sky interrupting the flow of the story, and then there are those that simply fit. They are unseen and thoroughly unexpected, but once they explode onto the scene it is obvious they match the texture, flow and rhythm of the tale. Joe Abercrombie’s soon-to-be-released 352 page hardback, “Half a King” is an adventure that is chock full of such wonders. This is a delightfully entertaining, entrancing saga that will charm and win many readers, from the tweens to those in their prime. It is a story of tragedy, treachery, high adventure, and deep friendships expressed with captivating style and clearheaded urgency.

“Half a King” revolves around a young prince named Yarvi, who is not a “whole man” because he was born with a crippled, malformed hand. Yarvi’s lack makes him a prime candidate to be trained as a minister, part of a network of shamans who know the lore of the elves and the shattering of god; who are studied in herbs, poisons and medicine; and often befitted to be counselors of kings. Just before he faces the test to become a minister he is shoved into the royal limelight brought on by the murder of his father and only brother. It becomes quickly clear that Yarvi is the unwanted heir since he is only half a man who would only make half a king. He can’t fill his father’s boots or stand up to his brother’s stature. His icy mother is ashamed, and his counselors patronizing. It is at this point the story takes off!

Yarvi is pressured to seek vengeance on Grom-gil-Gorm, the supposed murderer and king of the rival dominion, Vanserland. He bows to the inevitable raid of reprisal, which will be launched once the funeral fires for his father and brother have moldered. The troops are mustered and mourn as the funeral pyre burns. Early the next morning, as the army leaves the smoldering heaps and mounts their ships to head out to avenge the injustice; Yarvi makes a serious, unbreakable oath to avenge his father and brother. He swears to hunt down and slay their murderer. When challenged by his uncle Odem, he asserts that he may be half a man, with half a hand, but he can make a whole oath. This “whole oath” propels the rest of Yarvi’s story, through the shocking treachery of his uncle Odem, his grueling time on the slave galley, the dangerous escape with his oarmates, the hazardous trek that binds them together, their arrival in the capital city of his homeland, on to the very last page of the story. Half a king with half a hand can make a whole oath!

The story Abercrombie masterfully weaves will quickly, but lastingly, draw the reader into the drama; to be stunned by the twists and turns, to cheer over the growth and development of Yarvi, and to sigh with satisfaction and reflective surprise over the ending. “Half a King” is cleanly written, compelling, and driven. I happily recommend the book.

Thanks to Random House and Net Galley for the e-copy of the book used for this review.

[Feel free to re-post or re-publish. As always, remember to give credit where credit is due. Mike]

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