Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

half a king
Joe Abercrombie

««««

Del Rey Books, 2014.

Joe Abercrombie has made his name wading in the blood, gore, sex and moral ambiguity of the grimdark movement in fantasy. So much that his nickname is “Lord Grimdark.”

So what is he doing writing a YA novel?

Half a King is a coming-of-age novel about an unprepared and unrespected king thrust upon the throne following the death of his father and brother. Sound familiar? Unlike The Goblin Emperor, however, Half a King, is an engrossing page turner filled with action and mostly readable names.

The story follows Yarvi, a Viking-esque prince who is studying to become a minister. Trained in letters and the art of negotiation, he is not a warrior like his father or uncle, due to his deformed hand. But when the neighboring kingdom ambushes his father in a trap, he dutifully assumes the throne and vows revenge.

The plot against his father goes deeper, however, and soon Yarvi finds himself betrayed and thought dead. He survives, however and is sold into slavery, working as an oarsman on a trader’s longship. He must regain his throne, avenge his father and find revenge on his betrayers. And along the way he needs to learn how to be a leader.

On the surface, Half a King didn’t feel like a young adult novel. It does follow a typical coming-of age journey, most of the plot twists are well choreographed and it is a quick, easy read, but the book is filled with violence and plenty of morally ambiguous characters as befits a revenge tale. Not as much as Abercrombie’s “First Law” series, but way more so than your average “Harry Potter”.

The book also lacks sex, so maybe that keeps it at a PG-13.

My only complaint was the ending – without giving any spoilers Abercrombie resolved the conflicts with a touch of deus ex machina which, while hinted at earlier, felt like it came out of nowhere. It wrapped the story up neatly, and laid the groundwork for a sequel at least, but it still felt forced.

But Half a King is a great introduction to Abercrombie’s vividly dark storytelling for readers of all ages.

—Michael Senft

Buy Half a King

About Michael Senft

I am a freelance writer and critic from Phoenix Arizona. I spent 10 years covering music, the arts and pop culture for the “Arizona Republic” before life circumstances took me away from newspaper. But I never lost my joy at writing. Or reading.
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