Review of Half a King – Book 1 of The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie


Abercrombie is the best-selling author of the First Law trilogy and several other books set in the same world. He helped to start the current fashion for anti-heroes with his magnificently flawed protagonists Logan Ninefingers, foppish and self-centred Captain Jezal dan Luthar and my personal favourite – torturer Glokta. While the books are shot through with desert-dry humour, these are definitely not your breezy swashbuckling adventures, where a great time is had by all as they slash their way through the book… The tone is a whole lot darker and the cost of violence is starkly depicted in the shattered body of Glokta, who managed to survive his own stint as a torture victim, before turning into a torturer, himself.

half a kingSo is Abercrombie’s first YA adventure sufficiently mindful of the audience – and probably more pertinent – suitably mindful of the sensibilities of teachers and parents overseeing YA reading matter? Oh yes. This is an absolute treat.

Born a weakling in the yes of the world, Yarvi cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge. Especially when his father and older brother are both slaughtered by a neighbouring lord and he suddenly finds that instead of continuing with his training to become a trusted advisor to his brother, he is the one who will be the next king…

As I’m allergic to any form of spoiler, I’ve paraphrased the blurb – it’s worth it with this particular book. Abercrombie throws in a series of major upsets, so just as I was settling in to discover how Yarvi was going to cope with this plot twist – he was off on another one. It makes for a compelling read – to the extent that I sat in an unheated car in the small hours, completely oblivious to the passing time or the falling temperature… And anyone who knows me knows that last one is a huge compliment. I don’t do cold, so to have been pulled into someone’s world sufficiently to ignore getting downright chilly means I was engrossed.

I loved the world, the perfect narrative pacing and the character progression. We have a salutary demonstration at the end of the book as to just how much Yarvi’s experiences have shaped him – once more leaving me open-mouthed with surprise. I’m not the target audience – and while I regularly read YA books with huge enjoyment, I’m normally conscious they are written for a less experienced reader, so I tend to give the author a pass on some of the less subtle writing. No such pass is required for Abercrombie. This is a delight. Accomplished, enthralling and has this non-YA reader desperate for more.

2 responses »

  1. Glad to see a review from someone who enjoyed it as much as I did. I actually preferred Half a King to Abercrombie’s other books. I thought that the (minute) degree to which he moderated for a younger audience his tendency to darkness and violence actually made it easier for me to enjoy.

    • Yes! I thought the same. I enjoyed the start of the First Law trilogy, but as the series progressed the protagonists just kept on getting bleaker… I also enjoyed the fact there were not so many sub-plots in HALF A KING, which gave me a chance to thoroughly get to know Yarvi. And some of the twists were wonderful.

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