“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”
For a handsome, well-built man, Joe Abercrombie has a bemusing attachment with cripples. After enthralling and horrifying us by the same measure with the crippled soldier-turned-torturer Sand dan Glokta in his debut First Law trilogy, it is Yarvi’s turn this time.
Half a King is a fast-paced vengeance-driven tale like Best Served Cold. Only, much shorter and not as rambling. Yarvi is a one-handed (read crippled) prince who doesn’t want anything to do with the Black Chair (throne of his kingdom). As the fate would have it, the Black Chair is imposed upon him when his father and elder brother are killed, supposedly by an old enemy. He’s put on the throne but then betrayed by his own uncle in his first ever raid into the enemy’s territory. He falls off a cliff into the sea, and is believed to be dead. But he survives and vows to take back the Black Chair and have his revenge on his uncle. After being sold into slavery in a ship, he meets his companions who make up the rest of the primary cast.
My first reaction after opening Half a King was a towering disappointment. The short descriptions and blurbs I’d read of the book had led me to believe that it is set in the First Law universe (Circle of the World; where rest of Abercrombie novels are set). It is not, if you are in the same delusion. Abercrombie has built an entirely new world for his Shattered Sea novels, as the series is called. The disappointment, however, disappeared once I’d begun reading. The book engrosses you from the page one itself and things, important ones, begin to happen right away.
“When you’re in hell, only a devil can point the way out.”
As far as the world building goes, the books falls really short. At least initially, the world building is not extensive especially coming from someone who wrote First Law – that can be good or bad depending on individual preference. I was ambivalent to it, as on one hand it allowed me to get involved in the story more quickly, and on the other, it also bogged down the involvement factor. Admittedly, it was a little disillusioning. Fantasy, particularly High Fantasy, relies a good deal on the world building to help you lose and escape into the world. That is why for many, including me, good world-building is quite important. I fervently hope the next book will take care of that.
But these comparatively minor annoyances are rendered nearly ineffective by Abercrombie’s splendid story-telling and deft characterisation. Especially later on, when you really get the hang of the world and setting, you begin to start feeling a lot more comfortable with the book. There are Viking undertones to the story. And like any good Viking tale, you will be spending plenty of time at the sea. Half a King is a fairly snappy read and, yes, much shorter than previous Abercrombie books at just 352 pages in paperback format. In terms of content, though, this book is certainly not wanting. And watch out for the huge surprise at the end.
All in all, this is another addition to Joe Abercrombie’s glorious bibliography. And to my Fantasy shelf. I say Fantasy but there are hardly any fantasy elements in the novel, except for some minor hints. Half a King does come with its share of irritants, but if you are an Abercrombie fan, you will not want to miss this. And if you aren’t, well, you will be once you are done with it.
“The fool strikes. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.”