Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

half a kingTitle: Half a King

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: Shattered Sea #1

Genre: Fantasy

Received for review from the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads)

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.


I’ve half read one Joe Abercrombie book before. It was one of those unfortunate situations where I was really enjoying the book then, for whatever reason, put it down so I never finished it and now I’m a bit reluctant to go back to it, because I know I’ll need to re-read everything again. So, I jumped at the chance to review this, as I’ve heard so many good things about Abercrombie, that I felt it was high time I actually finished a book of his.

Half a King is fantasy with definite YA sensibilities, though don’t think that means love triangles and tortured bad boys. This is a story about young people trying to make their way in an adult world, and the mistakes they make in the process. Yarvi, the titular ‘half a king’ is thrust onto the throne when his brother and father are killed – he doesn’t want it, and isn’t particularly pleased to be giving up on the ministry life he’d been primed for. But he vows to be avenged for the death of his loved ones – a vow that takes him on a near impossible journey across the lands, helping him to grow from young, naive boy into a strong man, as is the way of these quest narratives.

So, yes, a familiar set up, but Abercrombie handles the quest with more grit and realism than most quests involving young people. Yarvi is enslaved, chased across snow storms, forced to make terrible decisions. There is fledgling love and brotherhood and betrayal and loss, and all of it is so sharp and real that it’s hard not to empathise with the characters and root for them.

There are some minor niggles – I was never sure why the Captain of the boat Yarvi was enslaved on was quite so keen to chase across such hostile landscape to reclaim a few lost slaves – but it’s nitpicking an otherwise excellent and thoroughly enjoyable book.

And best of all, in my view, Half a King reads like a complete novel. Not like the first in a trilogy – which it is. I love that Abercrombie has left the story in a place where it feels complete. Yes, there is enough open to warrant books two and three, but it’s not a killer cliffhanger that I will have forgotten all about by the time the next book comes out. Just be warned, the ending comes with a real sting in the tail that, although not a cliffhanger, will leave you wanting the next book really bad!

Overall, a hugely enjoyable read, and maybe just about enough to persuade me to re-read that other Abercrombie book I started all those years ago!

Rating: 5/5


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