Half a King

Joe Abercrombie
Half a King Cover

Half a King


If you equate the First Law series to vodka, then this book, by comparison, is pretty much lemonade.

Prince Yarvi, second son and minister-in-training suddenly finds himself King when his father and older brother are killed, forcing him to take a throne he's never wanted. After all, with one deformed hand, how can he be a strong king? Apparently he was not the only one that felt so, as betrayal from those closest to him ends in slavery. Now, Yarvi intends to take back the throne he never wanted, and to do so he'll have to become more than simply half a King.

As rip-roaring a heroic adventure as they come, from beginning to ending. Half a King is the coming of age tale of Prince Yarvi, who finds himself betrayed and thought dead by everyone. However, Yarvi has other plans, and intends to see himself back on the throne. After all, he may be half a man, with a deformed hand, but he swore a whole oath for vengeance.

I have to admit, I was skeptical about Abercrombie writing YA, but this is definitely Joe at his best. It's short, tight and action packed; from the minute Yarvi becomes King the story takes off and moves along with all the speed and charge of his First Law books. It's extremely quotable, easy to relate to, and takes as unflinching a look at heroism, responsibility, strength, courage and perseverance as anything he's ever written. Quintessential Lord Grimdark, in an all new package.

So why then, the 3 star rating? Because it's tame. This is Abercrombie hobbled, with his fangs pulled and his arms lopped off. Here's the thing. In this blog post by Joe, he emphasizes that he refused to tone down his style. After all, young adults are nevertheless adults. Sure, he's going to ratchet down the violence and sex and brutality, which is fine with me. But in doing so, by extension, he also had to dilute his characters. And as a result the entire book was toned down. He set out to write a YA novel with all the charge of his adult novels, but by diluting the graphic content, he was forced to dilute his characters to fit logically into those constraints, and that results in his goal simply being impossible to create.

At its heart, this is still quintessential Lord Grimdark. Just a housebroken version of it. So the book did deliver every page of the way, as fun and engaging a romp as they come. But it was exactly that. A romp. It had none of the dark depth, the intensity, or the poignant life view that makes his books shine. And that is why at the end of the day I find this a decent book, but nothing spectacular. After all, Abercrombie sans characters is boring. Half a King is set in a pseudo-Viking world, with remnants of elf civilization and a mythology based on a shattered god. Absolutely nothing remarkable.

Sadly, the poignancy and cynicism aren't the only qualities of the book that were forced to become toned down. The darkly charming humor I expected is also very sparse in here. There are moments where his writing does lend itself to humor, but once again it's nothing on the scale of First Law. I frankly found Red Country to be more humorous, and that's my least favorite of the lot.

Simply put, Lord Grimdark wrote a book that just ain't grimdark. You have to be realistic about these things.

On the flip side of the coin, this book is precisely something I personally think the YA genre needs. Simply put, it's YA for guys, something that's pretty much non-existent in the genre. Through Yarvi's development, we follow the story of a boy who not only has to develop into the person his peers need him to be, but he's faced with questions and choices of responsibility, identity and character that he must make. All common issues a developing teenager encounters, and as a result will find themselves not only easily identifying with Yarvi, but finding thought provoked as a result.

All in all, Lord Grimdark delivers. Half a King is the beginning of a trilogy that is quintessentially his style, but toned down and targeted to an entirely new demographic. Naturally it can still be read by adults, but whether they find it on par with his adult series will vary from reader to reader. For myself, it wasn't. However, it was nevertheless an enjoyable read. Prince Yarvi is an unlikely hero that will grow on you and and leave you looking forward to his further adventures. Despite the fact that I didn't enjoy this as much as I expected to, I'll definitely be picking up Half the World. After all, YA or not, it's Lord Grimdark. You have to be realistic about these things.