Customer Review

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nothing will prepare Yarvi for the truth., 13 July 2014
This review is from: Half a King (Shattered Sea, Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
“Half A King” is the first volume in Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea fantasy trilogy, and is, to sum it up in one sentence, a coming-of-age story that is set in a Viking-age fantasy world. I’ll give the bare bones of the main story-line and try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, before I give my reasons for the star-rating I chose for this book.

“Half A King” tells the tale of Prince Yarvi, the youngest son of the Gettland king. Because he was born maimed – he has a twisted, knobby hand on one side – he is seen as only “half a man.” Not suited to be a warrior, Yarvi is studying to become a minister. On the night before he’s to take his final Minister’s Test, which will make him renounce family and birthright, his uncle Odem brings world-shattering news: his father King Uthrik, and also his heir, Yarvi’s elder brother, have both been treacherously murdered by the Vanstermen. And now, Yarvi is suddenly thrust into the kingship.

The thin golden band of the King’s Circle on his brow, his bottom about to be planted on the Black Chair and a marriage to his cousin Isriun in the very near future, Yarvi now has to prove to his people that being maimed doesn’t make him only “half a king.” He must take up his father’s sword and lead a raid against the Vanstermen in revenge, even though the High King has forbidden open war. As usual with Abercrombie, a lot of things end up having double meanings. Take for example the oath of vengeance he swears before he sets out: “Let it be a chain upon me and a goad within me.”

Before long, Yarvi is in chains indeed. Treachery during the raid has him make a desperate dash for freedom. Although everyone else believes he dies in his escape attempt, he manages to survive by the skin of his teeth but ends up in Vansterland. Captured - but not recognized – he is sold as a slave to the owner of a merchant ship, and shackled to the oars. Making friends among his oar-mates, and even meeting someone who may become a love-interest, the largest part of “Half A King” is taken up with how he finds a way to escape his iron collar and manages to outwit his pursuers. He also needs to find a way to steal his throne back from those who tried to stab him in the back, while keeping the adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” firmly in mind. Suffice to say that Nothing will prepare him for the truth.

The final verdict. As can be expected from Joe Abercrombie, the writing is outstanding. So... why the four stars? Well, it all seemed to lack a certain depth. Yes, the basic story is good, but when compared to his other work, it seemed to me a bit watered down, although this might be because he still has to find his “voice” as this novel is intended for younger readers. In parts, it also got somewhat predictable, although he had me with one of the big twists at the end - that one I didn’t see coming (to avoid spoilers, I’ll keep it vague and will only say it involves a revelation about one of his companions). But that said, there were a tad too many other startling coincidences that made things less believable. Case in point: the ‘deus ex machina’ that happens during the pursuit that forms the core of the book, and saves the life of one of Yarvi’s companions. Hence the four stars.

This book is aimed at the YA-market, and as such, the tale is less grim and bleak than Abercrombie’s usual work. The swearing is also toned down – let’s call it PG-rated instead of R-rated, to use a movie analogy. Of course, as in all his novels, there’s only a thin line between good and evil and his somewhat cynical worldview (in which everyone is morally ambiguous) and his trademarked dark humor is prevalent throughout the tale. Although it’s the first in a trilogy, for those who now may groan and don’t want to sink their teeth into another trilogy or (who knows) maybe yet another umpteenth-ology: “Half A King” also works very well as a standalone novel. So: recommended for fantasy lovers in search for a good read, or all Abercrombie fans out there.
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D. C. Stolk

Location: The Netherlands

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