Half a King

Joe Abercrombie
Half a King Cover

Half a King


Half a King is marketed as a Young Adult novel so I'm also going to label it as such, but doing so also feels wrong somehow. It's not just because it is so different and unconventional compared to what we may think of as "mainstream" YA out there, but I also think adult fantasy readers or those familiar with Joe Abercrombie's gritty adult fantasy novels will no doubt feel right at home reading this too. Now, if you're thinking to yourself, "Joe Abercrombie and YA? Now THIS I have to see," well, yes, yes you do. As a fan of his work, I was very curious to see how his first venture into YA fiction would work out, and I have to say I'm quite astounded and impressed with the results.

The book follows Yarvi, a young prince born with a crippled hand. In a warrior society that values fighting prowess, this disability has limited him and led him to be treated with disdain his whole life. When his father and older brother are unexpectedly killed in an enemy ambush, Yarvi has no choice but to inherit the throne, but he barely has the chance to warm the seat before he is betrayed and left for dead. His fight for survival sees him sold into slavery, taken on the high seas and far away from home, but Yarvi knows he will not give up until he gets his revenge.

As ever, character development is Abercrombie's strong suit, and everyone you meet is a constantly evolving tapestry, realistically woven with hardly any black-and-whites. Despite the YA nature of the novel, we don't see a sacrifice in the quality of the characters or storytelling. Yarvi feels like the genuine product of his history and upbringing as the forgotten royal son, dismissed for a failure and never being able to become anyone important. Those sentiments have rubbed off on Yarvi himself, who has a tendency towards self-doubt and is prone to question his own worth. He's no prince charming, and what use does he have for pride and honor? The only constants that keep him alive are his anger and sharp wit. It makes for some very interesting decisions on his part.

Also belying the familiar tale of the betrayed prince seeking to retake his stolen throne is a much more complicated story packed with unexpected twists and turns. It may have been fine-tuned for a younger audience, but the plot loses none of its subtlety. The problem with a lot of YA novels today involve the overuse of tired old tropes, and thank goodness Abercrombie decided to forgo pretty much all of them. You can never predict for a certainty where he will go with a story, and since I've enjoyed his crafty, clever writing in style in a lot of his adult books, I'm really glad to see it here in Half a King as well. You never know what tiny little detail can come back later on in the book and haunt you, so don't even blink!

Best yet, while it is the first book of a series, it can most definitely be read as a standalone with no cliffhangers or glaring unresolved conflicts. Clearly, there are many more places we can go with the characters and ideas in this novel, but here we have a complete, self-contained story. Again, THANK YOU.

In sum, this feels like a young adult book. But it also feels like a Joe Abercrombie book. Take the best of both worlds, like the easy, engaging and action-packed fast pace of the former and the elegant writing style of the latter, and you have Half a King, which is Full of Awesome. I would recommend it in general, but also especially for readers who have always struggled with the YA category, or who might be suffering burnout from the same old, same old. I frequently find myself in this camp. While I love YA, sometimes all the love triangles and cliffhangers can take its toll, and a book like Half a Kingis the perfect cure to invigorate my interest and make the genre exciting again.