Title: Half A King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 4/5 stars
Series? Yes, 1 of 3.
This book has been on the radar for a while, with the last book of the series coming out in August, I finally take the plunge. Short version: I loved it! Here’s why you will, too.
A man swings the scythe and the axe, his father had said. A man pulls the oar and makes fast the knot. Most of all a man holds the shield. A man holds the line. A man stands by his shoulder-man. What kind of man can do none of these things?
Yarvi is the youngest prince of Gettsland, born with one crippled hand, he was trained for a life in lores and herbs rather than to rule. When his father and elder brother are murdered, Yarvi – who was always told he’s only half a man – must step up and become a king. Before he is able to appreciate the enormity of leading this warrior nation, he’s betrayed and sold into servitude (I admit, here my mind also wandered towards a Half A King/Captive Prince cross over, haha), and a whole different struggle begins.
1. Complex Characters
“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”
My favourite thing about Half A King is definitely its cast of characters and how fully realised they all were. Firstly, we have Yarvi: who rises above his disability and grows into his own person through the book by relying on his wit. His rise in a society that values brain above brawns was so delightful to watch. It also gave me warm fuzzies to see him make friendship in unlikely places and inspire loyalty in the least likely places. Yarvi’s no typical hero, he had no strength of body nor bravado – but he’s a damn interesting one that you could really root for. Plus, it helps that he’s totally hilarious! I like my men with a sense of humour.
‘Laithlin, the Golden Queen!’ She spoke the name like a magic spell. ‘They say she’s owed a thousand thousand favours, that a debt to her is a matter for pride. They say her word is valued higher than gold among merchants, because gold may go down in worth but her word never does.’
Aside from Yarvi, I also adored the many strong women featured in the story. I loved Laithlin, Yarvi’s mother, bargainer extraordinaire in all her manipulative glory. I loved Sumael and her unwavering sense of direction: both physical and personal. I even loved pirate and slave owner Shadikshirram and all her swagger. Can’t wait to see more of these awesome women in future installments. Other side characters were also well developed, especially the friends Yarvi made during his days as the oarsmen. Nothing is an especially interesting figure, but the less I say on that, the better for those who have not read the book.
2. The Writing and The Pacing
“The fool strikes. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.”
I finished this book in one day, I also happened to work 12 hours on that day – I think it only took me 3 hours to devour the book because the pacing was amazing. There was constant momentum in the plot, and pushing it along was Joe Abercrombie’s beautiful writing. This book is so damn quotable, chockful with gorgeous quotes and wisdom from the crafty-minded such as, here are some of my favourite examples:
He gave them songs of love lost and love found, of high deeds and low. The Lay of Froki, so cold-blooded he slept through a battle, and the song of Ashenleer, so sharp-eyed she could count every grain of sand on a beach. He sang of Horald the Far-Travelled who beat the black-skinned King of Daiba in a race and in the end sailed so far he fell off the edge of the world.
The wise minister picks the greater good, the lesser evil, and smooths the way for Father Peace in every tongue.
The writing has to be experienced in person to be appreciated, though. I think I’m going to slavishly collect all of Joe Abercrombie’s books now.
3. It Leaves You Reeling & Wanting More
“A tale of blood and deceit, of money and murder, of treachery and power.”
“The only sort I enjoy. Has it elves in it? Dragons? Trolls?”
Yarvi shook his head. “People can do all the evil we’ll need.”
Aside from wanting to see more of the characters and the writing, as I mentioned above – this book also leaves me curious about the world it’s set in. It seems to be based around Viking (IDK enough to make this call certainly, for shame) society, and I would love to see more of the High Kings as well as the other territories mentioned by Sumael.
Though the book ties off most of its plotlines neatly by the last pages, there’s multiple threads left hanging and two characters who went off in very unexpected directions. I love the ceaseless twists in this tale, it’s uncommon for me to be surprised in a book – so having it happen multiple times in one book? Awesome! Can’t wait to dive right back into the sequel.
Have you read Half A King and/or other Joe Ambercrombie books? Would love to hear your thoughts!