Review : Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Plot Synopsis (off goodreads because once again I’m lazy)

“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.

 Review – My problems with Half A King

It’s a bit odd to be reviewing Half A King because, this book isn’t aimed at me it is aimed at a young adult audience. I knew this before I read Half A King of course but didn’t give it much thought. I have really enjoyed Joe Abercrombie’s books and it was off that experience that I picked up his latest story.

When it comes to reviewing the book however I find myself in a cleft stick. How much should my opinion be changed by the fact that the book is aimed towards 10-14 years olds. Even when I started writing this paragraph my thought was that I should make a hefty allowance for this. However, I have changed my mind as I write. So here it is.

It think it was JK Rowling who said that to write for children you need to have a very clear idea of what it was to be like at that age. I’m not sure that Joe Abercrombie does or at least he has underestimated children and sold himself short with Half A King.

Robin Hobb’s words in her goodreads review get to the heart of my point. Hobbs writes that Half A King had “exceptionally tight focus on the protagonist” that she liked. 

I agree with her and I have no problem with a tight POV. After all I think my Harry Potter love is probably clear from my reference to JK Rowling and Harry Potter also has a tight POV focus.

What Abercrombie does in Half A King though is to allow that tightness to restrict the world building. There are hints to the world at large. For example, Yarvi’s mother is a fiscal genius but slavery seems to play its part in her success. Whilst there is a monotheism v paganism cultural war going on that is only hinted at.

Since Yarvi’s character is so book smart and clever from his time studying to become an advisor to Kings and Queens it would have been great to see Abercrombie clash Yarvi’s “book” knowledge against reality where the hoof meets the grass. Particularly in light of the hinted upon slavery. This wouldn’t need to be done by beating the reader over the head with the point. I would have just liked to have been given a broader snapshot of the world as a whole.

Ultimately, the lack of ambition in Half A King prevents a very good readable novel from being a young adult classic. The best children/young adult books stretch their readers in a way that I don’t think Half A King ever quite manages.

Abercrombie seems to have reigned himself in when he was writing Half A King when instead, to write for young adults, he should have been letting his imagination soar.

What Half A King did well

After those critical comments I feel I must temper things somewhat by saying I did enjoy Half  A King a lot. I breezed through it in less than a couple of nights of reading and I only do this when I’m enjoying a book.

Particularly, great was the depth to the characters. Everyone has real flaws and real positives. Whether they are a hero or a villian. There were no Mary Sue’s here which is more than can be said for other books.

Despite, being the protagonist Yarvi’s can be a ruthless unsentimental b***ard and the book does shy away from this. Such touches have always been Abercrombie’s biggest strength as a storyteller and their presence keeps the grimdark feel of his earlier works going strong even with the lack of r-rated material.

Conclusion

If you’re an Abercrombie fan looking for a fix or a someone who enjoys “young adult” fiction then give Half A King a go. It’s very good. With a bit more ambition though it could have been great.

 

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2 thoughts on “Review : Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

  1. The Fat Knight says:

    I thought this was a really weird view. There’s something missing from Half a King but I really don’t think the same as you when it comes to working out what it was. The world of Half a King is essentially just dark age Scandinavia, the slavery and religious changes really didn’t need any further explanation in my eyes. Jarvi has no lesson to learn about slavery because his society don’t view morality in those terms and I’d have hated it if Jarvi had started crying about the injustice of slavery. One of Abercrombie’s key strengths is his ability to give characters non-21st century morals.

    • I agree I wouldn’t have wanted Jarvi crying about how bad slavery is. That would have been interminable. I also agree that as a ruling member of a society where slavery exists he wouldn’t have had a lesson to learn about slavery at the beginning of the book. However, as the plot unfolds Jarvi went from King to slave. The effect of that change would have been greater than it seemed to be in the book. My thought was that Abercrombie didn’t explore this so much because he reigned in his ambition due to it being a young adult novel. As for the religious aspect surely it must have been an completely opposite case from slavery as the idea of one god is clearly an alien one to Jarvi’s culture. As such the need to flesh it out was probably even greater. I suspect though these concepts may be explored more in the sequels.

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