Half a King: Review

June 26, 2014 2014, 3.5 star books, fantasy, Kim 39 ★★★½

Half a King: ReviewHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie
Series: Shattered Sea #1
Published by Random House on July 15, 2014
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

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An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


kim teal









39 Responses to “Half a King: Review”

  1. Effie M.

    Well, this went immediately onto my pre-order list!

  2. Brittany T

    I loved this story with all my heart but was also in the perfect mindset for it as i was coming off a Game of Thrones marathon. I do however understand you could feel the way you do. Thanks for the review.
    Brittany T recently posted…On Vacation!! *HUGS*

  3. Lyn Kaye

    I have to admit, I do love that cover.

    I’ve heard some polarized discussions about this book. I’ve heard that it is good, then I have heard that it is dry and flat. I’m still a little wary, but your review did give me something to reflect on when I think about picking it up or not. Thanks, Kim!
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Forgotten Fridays: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

  4. Kayla Adams

    I have seen this book around but never actually picked it up or read anything about it. I have to say it sounds like something I would like, but I prefer high fantasy. Are the political elements strong in the book? That’s something I don’t care a lot for.

  5. Nikki

    Oh man. I’ve seen a few reviews for this book recently, but this was the one to convince me that I NEED it in my life!! Great characterization is always the main thing I look for in my fantasy books, not just great action (which this one sounds like it also has!), so what you said about Yarvi and the secondary characters totally swayed me. I can deal with a bit of predictability as long as the characters are fantastic!
    Nikki recently posted…ARC Review: HEXED by Michelle Krys

  6. Fry (Rachel C.)

    I’ve read some of his adult books and I’ve got an ARC of this that I need to read, soon. I’m curious to see how this young adult offering holds up. He’s one of those authors who sets up a few obvious plot twists, but then blindsides you with blood and pain.

  7. Paige G

    Ugh, I think I’m going to have to get this. Even if the twists and turns are predictable, I’m a sucker for a well-written fantasy with good world building, enjoyable characters, and sword fights that aren’t glazed-eye worthy. I’m going on a trip in a few weeks, so I may have to pick this up and save it for my flight!

    Plus, that cover is gorgeous. I’m so glad that, it seems anyway, the cover game for fantasies is picking up and aren’t those embarrassing covers anymore.

    • Kim

      Ha yes! Well do I remember the ridiculous fantasy of covers of not too long ago. I think this one is perfect, actually. I love that the snowflake is a blade. It’s like a perfect encapsulation of this book. Well done, cover designer(s)!

      It seems that I’m in the minority for thinking the twists are predictable if that helps at all. I would just try to put any/all twists out of mind. It sounds like everything else would be right up your alley!
      Kim recently posted…All Four Stars: Review

    • Kim

      If it helps at all my situation is pretty unusual gathering from all the other reviews I’ve seen. For what it’s worth I think it’s definitely worth checking out. It just depends on how high your tolerance is for this sort of grim political fantasy.

  8. Jessica R

    I hadn’t heard of this book before now but I’m very intrigued. I like that you describe it as gray rather than black-and-white because I think that can give such a great and more honest look at the characters. I mean, real life isn’t black and white, so why should fiction be? I loved when V.E. Schwab did it in Vicious and I’m so curious to see it done here, too. Also, fantastic characterization is always a winner in my books!
    Jessica R recently posted…Blog Tour Review: Dollhouse by Anya Allyn

    • Kim

      Ohhh I loved VICIOUS! If you liked VICIOUS I think you’ll like this one! They’re very different books but similar in the moral ambiguity factor. Ambercrombie usually writes adult books (I believe this is the first YA foray) and they’re known for being very “grimdark.” If you like the grayness and the sharp characterization then I’d say this is one you really should check out!
      Kim recently posted…Foodie Tour of NYC + All Four Stars giveaway

  9. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I just ADORE political fantasy, not to mention moral gray areas, but I’m also a huge critic of predictable plot lines. Being able to predict the plot twists are what have kept me from enjoying The Lunar Chronicles, but since you mentioned your experience wasn’t the norm I’ll definitely be checking this out. Fantastic review! :)
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…Review: Ruin & Rising by Leigh Bardugo

    • Kim

      Oh I’d be so interested to see what you’d make of this one, Keertana. You have a much sharper eye for these things than I do so it’d be interesting if you didn’t pick up on them. Maybe it’s because I was just on the lookout for it so much? It really doesn’t seem to be the norm that these twists and betrayals are easily spotted. I’m sort of scratching my head here! I will be on the lookout for your thoughts!
      Kim recently posted…Foodie Tour of NYC + All Four Stars giveaway

  10. Carina Olsen

    Hmph. Political fantasy? I don’t like that.. I adore fantasy books the most. But I don’t like political books :D But it sounds like a good book. I’m glad you enjoyed it; mostly :) But aw. I NEED romance in my books, lol. And just a little sounds pretty awful. Sigh. But still. Great review. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: Mortal Gods by Kendare Blake

    • Kim

      Aw man. It sounds like this one probably isn’t for you then. It’s mostly politics and that with only a teensy hint of romance. It’s really a well done book I just, like you, tend to prefer different things in the stories I’m going to like best.

    • Kim

      Yeah I haven’t read anything else by Abercrombie yet (shame, shame I know) but I understand he is alllll about the grimdark. This one really isn’t quite grimdark, though. I mean it’s pretty grim but there were way more elements of hopefulness and levity than I think is typical of grimdark. I can’t wait to see what you think of this one!
      Kim recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: The Westing Game

  11. Mary @ BookSwarm

    YES! Gray. That’s the word I was looking for after reading this book. It has an overall gray pall to it. I really liked Yarvi, though that poor dude just kept getting shat upon and betrayed, didn’t he? So much better for him with his books (I totally understand).
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Multiple Mini Swarms: Paranormal Romance

    • Kim

      It really felt like such a gray and wintery book! It surprised me for a summer release! I mean, I know books aren’t generally released for the feel or season they take place in but still. Perhaps we are better equipped to handle such grayness when we have the sun shining outside!

      He really did keep getting the short end of it. I am intrigued if the other books are about the same characters or will just take place in the same world but follow different characters. This *could* read as a standalone but there’s easily, easily room there to continue on the story. Hmmm. I guess we’ll see!
      Kim recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: The Westing Game

    • Kim

      I haven’t read any of Joe Abercrombie’s other books yet! I’m interested to see how his adult work compares to this YA book. I hear his books are usually much darker than this one. I’m not particularly a fan of grimdark but I’m not necessarily against it either. It all depends on the specific book. But I am certainly intrigued!
      Kim recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: The Westing Game

  12. Pili

    I hadn’t heard about this one before, and I usually prefer a little less political intrigue in my books, but this one still sounds good enough to add to my wish list.
    I love that the hero is the underdog kind, out of the norm and in this case disabled.
    Great review, Kim!
    Pili recently posted…Ink & Batter #8: The Art Of Lainey by Paula Stokes!!

    • Kim

      I will say that there’s a great deal of adventure story here if that is more up your alley, Pili! And Yarvi was a great protagonist. Kind of a like a younger, more decent Tyrion Lannister. Well I liked him better anyway! :p
      Kim recently posted…Classic MG Discussion: The Westing Game

  13. Nikki

    I’m not usually a fantasy fan but I may have to look into this one just because of the different elements. Like physical deformation, moral boundaries, and politics. These don’t seem to come up that often in the fantasy genre unless its low fantasy so I might pick this one up being that’s in the gray scale.

    • Kim

      It’s definitely very light on the typical fantasy elements. There’s no magic or non-human characters, for instance. It sounds to me like you would really like this one. The moral quandaries and political elements are much more prominent than any sort of typical fantasy feel.

    • Kim

      It is a complex, gray novel. Grim but not quite grimdark. I enjoyed it a good bit even though low fantasy is not my favorite. If you like low fantasy way better than high (I am the opposite) I bet you would love it! Give it a whirl.

    • Kim

      Oh, I’m glad to get it on your radar! I love to know that I’m helping to get books into the hands of the right readers. :)

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