6 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Half a King

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Del Rey / HarperCollins Voyager
Publication Date: July 15 / July 7 2014
Hardcover: 376 Pages

Half a King Half a King UK

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 itself. 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’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Shattered Sea series (Trilogy?)

How did I get this book: Review copy from the UK publisher

Format (e- or p-): print

Why did I read this book: Have you not heard? This is the first YA book from popular Fantasy author Joe Abercrombie, touted as the best thing since sliced bread.


“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

The youngest son of a powerful King, Prince Yarvi was born with only one good hand into a world where being unable to hold a sword to fight as a warrior makes you a weakling. Spurned by his countrymen and his family, branded “half a man”, Yarvi spends most of his time sharpening his mind and preparing to become a Minister for a religious-like order of advisors to the King.

Before he can take up his vows, the unthinkable happens when his father and older brother are murdered leaving him the One True King. Advised to go to war against the ones believed to have killed his father, Yarvi is betrayed even before reaching the battlefield and ends up a slave on a pirate ship.

Yarvi’s journey from slavery to freedom and back home again takes up most of the narrative of Half a King. In his journey he meets a ragtag group of former slaves, forges friendships in blood and does everything to fulfill his oath to avenge the death of his father. It’s also a coming of age story: Yarvi’s fight to become a free man again, his acceptance of his inaptitude to be a king and understanding of the world he lives in and the gradual discarding of an internalised self-loathing because of his hand are all part of his journey.

Half a King is Joe Abercrombie’s first foray into YA Fantasy and my own first encounter with the author’s works. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, this is an easy-read, fun, adventure story. There are moments of funny humour, snappy dialogue and an ending that was genuinely surprising in different ways (more on that in a moment).

On the other hand, it is also trope-heavy as the vast majority of the book is exactly what you would expect from a revenge fantasy. Think Ben-Hur meets Count of Mount Cristo and bingo, you have it. I felt a lot of to be simplistic and superficial in exploring its motifs and characters. Those were especially true when it comes to slavery for example, or the relationships between Yarvi and his friends – their loyalty and sudden dedication to each other are very underdeveloped. In fact, I am sure we are supposed to accept that loyalty and friendship because this is the “way things tend to happen in stories of that kind” rather than because we see them actually developed in the book.

I have similar feelings when it comes to the topic of gender within the story. The author does attempt to do something very, very interesting with regards to gender by reversing traditional gender roles when it comes to the Gods and Goddesses in this Viking-like world. So, you have a GOD of Peace and a GODDESS of War. But it’s disappointing that this is never taken further to the most logical progression which would have been to have female soldiers and warriors in abundance in this world. Female characters – although in fairness and thankfully, quite powerful on their own – are almost always stuck to having power within the household/kingdom sphere with the odd female pirate (villain) out there. In the end, another character – female – swears a similar oath to Yarvi’s and I’d very much like to see that taken up with the same seriousness (perhaps that is exactly what book 2 is about. One can hope).

All that said, the last quarter of the novel was much more interesting. There is an element of subverting the expectations that the familiarity of the earlier parts had built up. Mind you, this is not because of a couple of fun twists but mostly because of how characters’ motivations and actions play out. I actually loved that the stimuli for actions are financial changes brought forth by a major female character. But I am not convinced that the last few pages entirely make up for the fact that the first three-quarters are so utterly familiar and under-developed. Your mileage may vary.

One last note: a great deal of hype has been created around this release. Blurbs from every single Big Name in Fantasy (although weirdly not in YA Fantasy as apart from Rick Riordan, all the other blurbs are by adult fantasists) and exceedingly positive reviews make it sound as though this is the best thing since sliced bread. Well, it’s not. But if you half (haha) your expectations and expect to pass a few entertaining hours, it will be fine.

Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read an excerpt of the novel here.

Rating: 6 – Good

Reading Next: Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne Valente

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)

barnes & noble Book Depository UK

Ebook available for kindle UK, nook & iBooks

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  • Ash Jax
    July 10, 2014 at 8:11 am

    This book lost me with comments by Abercrombie how he basicly wanted to reform and save the YA Fantasy genre (paraphrasing). Needless to say that his comment was pointed at female authors. Seriously, I love his adult fantasy but I wanted to throttle him for this shit.

  • Nathan (@reviewbarn)
    July 10, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Ash Jax, do you have a link? I would love to see the full quote.

    I am one of those who gave this one an extremely positive review but I love your take. I think my expectations were fulfilled; as an established fan I got a short Abercrombie book, which are probably very different from the expectations others are going to go into this book with.

  • Ana
    July 10, 2014 at 9:01 am

    @Ash Jax – O.O
    Really? Do you have a link please?

    @Nathan – I think you are probably right. I am curious about what YA readers that don’t read a lot of adult Fantasy will think of the book.

  • Joe Abercrombie
    July 10, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Very sorry to impose myself here, and thanks for the review. I just wanted to quickly respond to Ash Jax above if I may – I’m not aware of having said (and do not think) anything along the lines described, and absolutely, positively have not made any comment ‘directed at female authors’. I’d really like to see a link as well, so I can make the necessary apologies if I have somehow managed to shoot my mouth off.

  • Courtney @ Courtney Reads A Lot
    July 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    I have yet to read anything by this author, but it’s sad to hear that his first YA book was kind of a disappointment, especially since I was looking forward to this one. Hopefully, the other installments are much better. Lovely review!

  • Kallen (@GeekyLibrary)
    July 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    I had mixed feelings about the book, but not for the same reasons. I felt that Yarvi’s drive and dedication despite his difficulty made him worthy of respect from his companions.

    However, I guess I just expected more from his character.
    My review is online at GeekyLibrary.com

  • Janine Ballard
    July 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I’m reading this one now and I have mixed feelings. I’m at the 70% mark and so far I like the middle better than the beginning. Yarvi lacked agency for a good portion of the book (over a third, I’d guess) and it was hard for me to like him because of his “internalised self-loathing because of his hand.” Throughout the part of the book I’ve read, Yarvi keeps wishing for two good hands, despite the fact that he was born with his disability. He has had his entire life to accept the reality that one of his hands is disabled, but he hasn’t. This strikes me as an ableist perspective and that’s probably my biggest issue with the book.

  • Ana
    July 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    @Joe Abercrombie – no problem at all.

  • Ana
    July 10, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    @Courtney – Thanks!

    @Kallen – I will take a look at your review, thanks for commenting.

    @Janine – I see what you mean but I am not 100% I agree? I think that even though he was born with the disability it made sense for him to feel that way given that the culture he is from is a very ableist culture. Now, there IS certainly something to be said about the fact that the worldbuilding was built around such a culture to start with but I think that in the end, he does come to terms with it? That said I am coming from a privileged place so that might be a blind spot. Must think about it.

    I am curious to see how you feel once you finish the book.

  • Heather
    July 10, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    I’m a fan of Abercrombie’s adult fantasy, so I’ll have to check this one out.

    I think it would be interesting to do a comparison between this YA novel and one of his Adult works.

  • Stephanie
    July 12, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    I cam to this book as a huge fan of Abercrombie’s First Law series and I had exactly the same reaction to it as you. In fact, I avoided reading other reviews before writing mine so I was surprised to see how similar our thoughts were on the book. Thanks for validating my reading experience!:) Basically the end is pretty fantastic and put’s the rest of the book into a different light but I’m not sure it was enough completely wipe away the ho-hum-ness of the first 3/4 of the book.

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