Series: Shattered Sea #1
Published by Random House on July 15, 2014
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“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
The deceived will become the deceiver.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.
The betrayed will become the betrayer.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.
Will the usurped become the usurper?
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.
So here is your standard “disgraced underdog hero goes on an epic journey of self discovery to reclaim what is his by rights” coming of age story. What elevates Half a King above the standard?
This is not the black and white world of high fantasy. The whole book has an overwhelming gray feeling. Gray in atmosphere and gray in morality. It takes place in a Viking-like world with little magic. A politically minded fantasy, there are plots upon plots and layers of conspiracy to uncover. Betrayal after betrayal happen and the twists keep coming until the very last page. This is gritty and grim low fantasy, but it never feels hopeless.
The characterization is superb. As the younger son of the king, considered “half a man” for having a half formed hand (thus unable to fight in the strong warrior culture), Yarvi is easily relatable. A strong gift for empathy and a sharp mind make him easily likeable. And yet as the story goes on our hero inevitably must face dilemmas and make morally questionable choices. The author’s gift is in making these choices understandable and Yarvi likeable still. This is a society that enslaves at its leisure but Yarvi never takes this unethical practice into account as something to be done away with. It’s just accepted. You’ll enjoy this book if that is the sort of moral boundary pushing you like to contemplate.
There is a diverse and memorable cast of secondary characters. Yarvi’s ragtag band of supporters are unique and distinctly loveable. The humanity of each shines through even though many are a bit (more than) rough around the edges. I was especially fond of the female characters. All were well and complexly drawn with hopes, ambitions, goals, and plots of their own. They exist independent of Yarvi and are each singularly fierce in their own way.
Now, I’m a person who believes that badassery can come in many forms. I love a guile hero like Yarvi just as much as a sword wielding literal ass kicker and this book brings both in droves. The action here is heart pounding. I often get bored during action scenes or find my eyes glazing over and unable to concentrate on the descriptions of fighting–not here. It probably helps that some of the sword fighting takes place on a ship. Who doesn’t love a good bit of swashbuckling? There are scenes of action in this book so good I was almost cheering out loud. And often in the midst of the action would be Yarvi navigating the political elements of the battle. I really loved that combination of the guile hero’s prowess with the traditional fighter’s skills.
What kept me from giving this a higher rating is that I actually saw every twist coming. I’m often the last person to see even the most obvious of twists so this was super unusual. But judging from other reactions I’ve seen this is not the norm. And I still largely enjoyed this adventurous and dark story even still. There’s also just the barest, tiny hint of a romance and I always miss it when there’s very little romance in my YA. I also tend to prefer my fantasy on the higher, more magical end of the spectrum. I have no doubt that fans of this sort of grim, political fantasy will have much to love here.
This is a smartly plotted, gritty and real, action packed story that is rife with moral ambiguity and complex characterization. Strongly recommended for fans of low fantasy worlds where politics dominate and the morally gray reigns supreme.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.