Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (@jessicadhaluska, @LordGrimdark)

Posted July 23, 2014 by Jessica in Fantasy, Jessica, Reviews, Young Adult / 126 Comments

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (@jessicadhaluska, @LordGrimdark)
Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Series: Shattered Sea #1
Published by Del Rey
Published on: July 15 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 354
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
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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.

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It’s not a secret that YA fantasy is second to only UF on my preferred genres list. It’s also not a secret that YA fantasy has been falling flat for me recently. With the exception of Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas, the last 6 or 8 YA fantasies I’ve read have been disappointing at best, DNFs at worst.

It was getting to the point that I was doubting myself, thinking that I was in some kind of genre-specific book funk, and maybe I was being overly critical of all these books that everyone else seemed to love . . .

BUT then came Half a King by Joe Abercrombie.

Yes, then came Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, my first Abercrombie, incidentally, but definitely not my last, and faith in both myself and the genre was restored. Oh, I’m still a grouch, and there’s a good chance that you might like the books that I’ve spurned, but Half a King exists on an entirely different playing field. The writing is beautifully compelling—not over-flowery or verbose. It states things simply, in a way that goes straight to that gooey, melty center where your FEELS live.

Yarvi is the second son of a king. The second son born with a deformity that makes him practically useless to his raiding, warmongering father. Yarvi only has one hand, you see. Hard to hold both a sword and a shield if you only have one hand, so Yarvi is half a man in his father’s eyes . . . in the eyes of the rest of the warriors as well.

However, Yarmi is clever.

He’s nearly ready to take his test to join the Ministry, an order of advisers meant to temper the wrath of kings. He’s studied language and lore, medicine and philosophy. Once he passes his test and becomes Brother Yarvi, he will no longer be the deformed, second son of the king. The Ministry will be his family, it’s members his new brothers and sisters.

BUT when Yarvi’s father and brother are killed by treachery, the crown is thrust upon his head, forcing him into a life he’s never wanted, and is ill-equipped to handle.

And MAN, it tears you up. Especially when you read things like, “They hardly looked dead.“<——it HURTS.

His path is no longer the path he sought to follow, but Yarvi knows that what’s at stake is bigger than his own desires, and he’s determined to do the best he can.

But treachery is rarely as simple as it appears on the surface . . .

I don’t really feel like I can do this book proper justice, but I’m going to try.

It’s devilishly clever. There are enough clear hints to have you bouncing up and down in your chair, going, “Oh, oh!” along the way, and proudly declaring, “I knew it!” in the end, but vague, yet well-blending observations and incidents are also peppered throughout so that when other twists are revealed, you go, “Ooohhhh,” in appreciation and instant understanding.

I’ve already said it was beautifully written, and it was. Abercrombie made me feel sad truths profoundly while simultaneously making me laugh. About the sad truths. And he did this frequently.

And the characters. I have always been a more character-driven than plot-driven reader, and in this book even the villains are tangibly real. When numero uno Bad Guy has his, “Out, damned spot!” moment, you almost feel sorry for him . . . Almost . . .

And who doesn’t love a sword-wielding madman? Or a disgraced drunk of a female pirate who, “is too merciful. That has always been [her] fault”?

Or a clever boy facing impossible odds, who refuses to give up . . .

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie is the best new YA fantasy I’ve read this year. I recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy, YA or otherwise.

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My name is Jessica and I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m trying my hand at writing, but mostly I read. My favorite genres are Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, and the YA versions of those genres, but if there is a book of a different color getting lots of buzz, I’ll read it too, just to be informed. If I’m not reading or writing, I’m probably on Goodreads or Pinterest or baking blueberry pies because I love them.

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126 responses to “Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (@jessicadhaluska, @LordGrimdark)

  1. I read another equally praising review for this one from one of the Midnight Garden ladies (I think it was Kim) and I added this one to my wish list, but now after your review I’m adding it to the TBR list for sure!

    I love that feeling of being able to guess things that may come but not being 100% sure cause it’s being so cleverly done but not in an obvious way!

    Fantastic review Jessica!
    Pili recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday #52!!

    • I love Kim. She loves ToG like I love ToG 😉

      Me too. This book has such a good balance of that. It gives you enough to draw your own conclusions and be thrilled when you’re right, and you don’t resent the things you missed, LOL. You just appreciated the cleverness. Thanks, Pili!

    • Consider yourself justified! And that sounds fabulous, I hope you’re right . . . I also hope we’re thinking of the same person . . .

      PS: I’m starting a BR of The Blade Itself on Friday 😉

    • I thought so do. Not to speak in generalizations, but I think it’s the difference between a male or female author. In my experience anyway. I’ve yet to find a female author who writes non-romance focused fantasy well, but Abercrombie at least excels at it. And yes, I realize that was a total generalization, LOL. But I don’t believe a female author is incapable of writing this kind of fantasy, I just haven’t stumbled across one yet.

  2. First of all, YAY HEIR OF FIRE!!! So glad to know you loved it too!!!

    Second, sign me up for this book! YA fantasy is quickly turning into my very favorite genre, so I cannot miss out on this one. I love, love, LOVE a good villain, there’s nothing better for than wanting to shake a book in the hopes the villain will actually feel my wrath:) Adding this to my list immediately, thanks Jessica!

  3. So glad you’ve emerged from your YA fantasy book-funk! Everyone and their grandma (okay maybe not grandmas…can you imagine an 80 year old reading Abercrombie?!) has been raving about Joe Abercrombie since I started blogging. Clearly I need to put on my big girl pants and just surrender to the grimdark goodness.
    Danya recently posted…Graphic Novels, Tough Chicks: Vol. 3

    • My grandma is 70(ish), and I can totally see her reading and LOVING this. Of course, my grandma is friggin’ awesome and reads HP and The Hunger Games and SoFI<-----TRUE story. And this at least isn't terribly grimdark. I'll have a better basis for comparison after I finish my BR of The Blade Itself that's starting on Friday 😉

  4. Ooh wow what a recommendation! I’m always hesitant to pick up a true fantasy because so many of them are journey books, but I do like a clever book 🙂 I’ll have to add it to the never ending to-read list.
    Julie S. recently posted…Cress Review

    • Thanks, Paula! And I was in the same boat. Well, kind of, just with UF instead of YA contemporary, but I’d had this ARC for MONTHS, and . . . it just sat there languishing . . . more fool me, LOL. *goes to stalk you back*

    • Thanks, Paula! And I was in the same boat. Well, kind of, just with UF instead of YA contemporary, but I’d had this ARC for MONTHS, and . . . it just sat there languishing . . . more fool me, LOL. *goes to stalk you back*

  5. I was on a YA ban for a year then went semi 6 months ago so I can relate to what you’re going thru.

    Anyway, I’m revisiting the genre and so far I’ve been lucky with my picks. I heard this was good, hopefully I can or will get to read it in the future
    Braine recently posted…Gush & Gripe: Annoying Reading Habits

    • I hope so too, Braine. This is one of those rare “YA” books that is assigned that label strictly b/c of the price of the book and the age of the MC. No ridiculous and over-dramatized teen angst here *pinky promises*

  6. Mogsy from BiblioSanctum  

    I know, right? I don’t know what is up with YA lately. I think most of my favorite YA series has finished their runs this year, and now I’m just looking around for more and not finding much that clicks with me. I’m looking to traditionally adult fiction authors writing YA to pick me up out of the slump now, this one was seriously the jolt I needed to get me excited about the YA again, and I just recently finished Blightborn by Chuck Wendig that had a similar effect. Glad you enjoyed this!
    Mogsy recently posted…Book Review: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey & James Mallory

    • SERIOUSLY. All but ONE of my favorite YA series have already concluded this year, and I’d found squat to replace it until this. I haven’t read Wendig yet, but I have at least two of his books, so I’ll have to check him out soon. I’m glad it broke the funk for you too!

      • YEP. I was talking about ToG, and aside from a bit of a rough start, I loved HoF, so it’s still going strong for me too.

        I have read Angelfall, and I really liked it, but I read it back when it was still an indie, and when it took so long for the second book to come out, I decided to wait until the series was finished, before continuing it. Last I checked the release date had been pushed back for book 3 as well, so yeah, I’m going to stick to that plan. Patience is not my virtue, LOL.

  7. Jessica, what a relief that you have found another YA fantasy you could really enjoy! It sounds like I would really enjoy Half a King, too. Your review made me quite excited about it, even 🙂
    And stories that can touch that gooey, melty center where my FEELS live – yup, sign me right up, please 🙂
    I hope you’ll continue to find great YA fantasy stories! I feel like the book-grinch these days, too… So many just make me want to roll my eyes and close my kindle forever. Good thing there are a few hidden gems that find their way to my kindle, too 🙂
    Happy reading.
    Lexxie recently posted…Review: You Own Me – Shiloh Walker

    • This book is only YA be virtue of the sale prince and the age of the MC, I think. There’s no angst or melodrama, no high school shenanigans. (<------I just spelled that correctly for the first time EVER.) If you like traditional fantasy, then I would definitely give this a shot, b/c it is stellar 😉

  8. Is this really the author’s surename? Heh. YAYYY that this got you out of your YA fantasy slump 🙂 I’m glad! The story sounds pretty cool imo and teaaaars. Gosh, Jess! Tears are always a plus for me. If I don’t cry, now that’s a problem. I blame the Virgo in me for being so emotional *hairflip*Ha! I’m glad it had Sherlock moments but also managed to surprise you. And whooop for great writing 🙂
    Siiri recently posted…Blogger Interview: The Daily Prophecy

    • Yes, ma’am, it is, LOL. And me TOO. This book was so good, and I desperately needed a good book. I think my head might have just given up and fallen off if I’d gotten stuck with one more crap book.<-----I don't know if it's the sagittarius in me that makes me dramatic, but if it is, I come by it honestly 😉

    • I know, me too. And the next book is coming out in February, so not as long of a wait as I’m used to. Nathan from Fantasy Review Barn said that he heard the second book was going to be from a different POV . . . a female POV.<-------if that would be who I think, that would be awesome.

  9. Berls from Fantasy is More  

    I’m so glad you finally found a YA Fantasy that measures up! Of course you know I’m crazy about Fantasy, so I’m all over this. Once again, I’m like you –> “I have always been a more character-driven than plot-driven reader,” Yep!! This sounds fantastic Jessica, I’m off to add it to my TBR. Great review 🙂
    Berls recently posted…Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi| Audio Review

    • Thanks, Lori! This is one of those rare “YA” books that is only classified as YA b/c of the price of the book and the age of the MC. There really isn’t the standard angst and melodrama that you find in a lot of YA. *pinky promises*

    • There was a little bit, but it was secondary to the main plot. And I will be the first to tell you, that if there’s no romance, I’m going to lose interest pretty quick. Which speaks to how awesome this book is, b/c I did not mind the lack of romance at ALL. Thanks, Lola! I’ll keep on truckin’ 😉

    • You are so right. It was like being released . . . not from prison, LOL, but maybe a conference call . . . or a trip to Home Depot with DH. 😉 I definitely had an, “Oh, happy day!” moment.

    • Thanks, Tanja! It’s SO good, Tanja. It totally punched my YA fantasy funk in the teeth. It’s so good that I’m starting a BR of The Blade Itself (one of Abercrombie’s adult high fantasies) on Friday. B/c I wants MORE 😉

  10. Oh whoa it’s always great to find a REALLY good read among a few (or your case) lots lf crappy reads in one of your favourite genres. I’ve heard a lot of praise for this one so i’m pretty excited to read it myself now that i’ve added it to my TBR pile!

  11. Oh yes this one! I heard great things about this one so I’m happy to see that you had a great time with it as well. I really enjoy more and more YA fantasy books but I don’t really a lot of them, I should because I’m sure I would love this one as well. Great review!

  12. THE TITLE MAKES SENSE NOW! And you made me sad, Jess. That’s not a nice thing to do to a poor kid like me.

    I wasn’t sure if this was something I was particularly intrigued by (I am sorry, it was the cover) even with Faye raving about it but your review has completely sold me (incidentally, it was the first one I read for the book too).

    I want to meet the female pirate, I want to meet Yarvi and I want to see how he will fight against the odds and come out victor.

    Lovely review as always, hon!! <3
    Rashika recently posted…Potato Podcast #3: The Art of Commenting

    • Poor, Rashika . . . *strokes feathers* Were you made sad by my lack of good YA fantasy reads or Yarvi’s situation in general? B/c if it was my lack of good YA fantasy reads, don’t be sad, be MAD! I infinitely prefer to be mad, LOL (but I’m a hard case *glowers*)<-----HA. And if it was Yarvi's situation in general, yeah it definitely sucks . . . Don't be sorry. I had an ARC of this for MONTHS before I could actually be bothered to read it. *shrugs* Something about it just wasn't compelling. SO glad that I finally picked it up though. And awwww shucks 😉 Thanks, Rashika!! I want you to meet them too. I really think you'll like this one. *wishes and hopes*

  13. This review seriously makes me happy~ You know how much I was raving Half a King to everybody, and I’m glad it was able to surpass your expectations!! I loved Yarvi a lot, as in, I truly empathized with him. But most of all, I loved how he was so determined to do his best even if he knew being a king wasn’t cut out for him. I heard the sequel will be set many years into the future, when he’s in his twenties @_@ I CAN’T WAAAAIT!
    Faye recently posted…Potato Podcast #3: The Art of Commenting

    • Most of the reasons I loved this were the same reasons I didn’t like The Kiss of Deception. When I griped about Princess running away from her arranged marriage that would protect the kingdom, Amir said that the kingdom needed a new princess, and I was like YES. Yarvi knew he was getting the short end of the stick, but by golly, yes, he was going to do the best he could. WHAT?! Where do you get your information?! That sounds AMAZING *grabby hands*

    • LOL. So funny that the things that convince us that a book will be good are terrible things under any other circumstances 😉 I’m glad I loved this one too, and I hope you do as well!

  14. I’m so gonna read this one!!! *eeep* I’m so glad this book restored your faith but most importantly I’m glad you found another book for me to read. See how selfish I am?? *hangs head in shame* It’s a terrible character flaw I have. *slinks away*

    Brilliant review my friend…as always!
    Cristina recently posted…Stupid Girl by Cindy Miles

  15. I had NO idea this was a Young Adult fantasy! I’d be sold on this one, period, but the fact that it’s all this in a YA book is amazing. Definitely love your mention of Heir of Fire as well. Reading that one right now and I’m pretty much convinced the genre doesn’t get any better than that because-amazingness. Definitely going to have to check this one out!
    Alise recently posted…Review: The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas

    • Yay! I hope you love it, Alise. I agree, it doesn’t get better than ToG, but this book definitely has that kind of potential, and it’s the ONLY YA fantasy I’ve read recently that does 😉

  16. I love this line “It states things simply, in a way that goes straight to that gooey, melty center where your FEELS live.” and this review. I’m quite new to this genre actually, but because of Brandon Sanderson, I think I would read more. This book was actually recommended to me by Faye @ The Social Potato, and I think that I definitely want to check this one out now. From your review, I think this book would definitely wow me as well.

    • Thanks, Francine! As I said, this is one of my favorite genres, so I’ve read a lot of it, and this is definitely one of the good ones. AND Faye was the one who recommended this to me too 😉

    • *headdesk* You know . . . if I had read the blurb, one of the twists might have been a bit less twisty . . . but don’t worry, b/c there are LOTS of twists, I’m just pointing out that, once again, I did not read the blurb, LOL. GAH. I also probably wouldn’t have let it sit unread for a month or two. But enough about me 😉 SO glad you added this, Ginny. It really was fantastic. I hope you LOVE it!

    • It really didn’t feel like YA to me either. You’re definitely on to something about Adult fantasy authors writing YA books. Honestly, I wish I had more time, and could just read straight up high fantasy more. That’s the new goal—try to fit in adult fantasy 😉

      • Well I think I’ve been feeling exactly like you said above – so very disappointed in the quality of the YA SFF books lately that I haven’t been as much in the mood to read them. (Don’t even get me started on Mortal Danger which I read yesterday and thought was so lack luster and she DOES write a bunch of adult SFF) anyways because of that I’ve been shying away from YA more and more lately and reading more and more adult fantasy.

        Like I think I used to read about 60% or more YA and instead now I’m really more like 75% adult and less YA because I’m just so sick of it all being the same.

        Totally pick up some adult fantasy!
        Tabitha (Not Yet Read) recently posted…When books are shelved in genres where you don’t think they belong

      • Oh no! I did not want to hear that about Mortal Danger. I read Enclave and absolutely LOVED it. I’ve also really liked Perdition. But you know, Aguirre is really hit or MEH with me. I liked Saritha Jax well enough, but Corinne Soloman bored me to tears.

        And yeah, I’m reading a lot more adult these days too. I still have a bunch of YA that I’m looking forward to, this fall especially, but this summer has been mostly a washout . . .

        I’m going to! I’m already reading Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself in a group BR. Not today though. Today is Kate #7 day!!

    • Thanks, Sharon. Joe Abercrombie is actually a HUGE name in the adult fantasy genre. He was part of the “Rulers of the Realm” panel at SDCC with Patrick Rothfuss, Diana Gabaldon, George R.R. Martin, and Lev Grossman 😉

  17. Michele from A Belle's Tales  

    Eeep! I’m so glad Half a King turned things around for you in the YA fantasy genre! This book sounds like it has so much to offer. Yarvi sounds like an extremely likable character, and I adore beautiful writing that punches me right in my feels. This is going to the top of the list now that I’m warming up to this genre! Thank you, Jessica, for the great review!
    Michele recently posted…Review: Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #2) by Laini Taylor

  18. I also totally adored this novel. My only even slight complaint was with Yarvi’s lack of growth with regards to some of his attitudes. It was odd that later in the novel he could basically be like, “Well, someone has to row!” and leave it at that. So strange!

    The rest of it was just so perfect. I loved how Abercrombie didn’t take it where I expected to go or fall into any of the standard YA tropes. It was clear he was not writing down, even if it’s not AS gritty as some of his other adult stuff.

    Great review!
    Emily recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday (21): Top Ten Books I’d Give To Non-Fantasy Readers

    • Yes, I thought that was strange too. I remember wondering how his attitude could have . . . not reverted, exactly, b/c previously, he’d never given it any thought at all, but it was definitely dismissive given his recent experience.

      I thought it was great too. I’m actually in the middle of a BR of The Blade Itself. I took a few days off b/c I had to read other things, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it. You can definitely tell that Abercrombie is a writer of adult fantasy by the tone this book, even with the lack of “grimdark.” I appreciated the lack of YA troupes, especially given my recent experiences with other YA fantasy novels 😉 Thanks, Emily!