The Shattered Sea #1: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Milo aka “Bane of Kings”, looks at Half a King, the first book in an epic The Shattered Sea trilogy, from popular adult fantasy author Joe Abercrombie. Half a King is his first young adult novel, and is published by Harper Voyager in the UK.
“An excellent novel that’s one of 2014’s best. Joe Abercrombie is one of fantasy’s strongest authors no matter the target audience, and Half a King is an incredible success that fans of both adult and young adult fiction alike will enjoy.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
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.
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.
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.
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…
Joe Abercrombie is one of my favourite epic fantasy authors so there was no way that I was going to miss Half a King, the start of Abercrombie’s latest series, The Shattered Sea. His First Law Trilogy is amazing and the standalone novels of Red Country and Heroes have been superb as well. It’s good to see that Half a King was no different, and if for whatever reason you haven’t jumped on the Abercrombie bandwagon yet, then this is the perfect place to start.
Prince Yarvi, the main character of Half a King and its main narrator, is a crippled teenager who was put on the throne following the death of his brother and father. It’s a position that he never expected to be in, but when he was betrayed and sold into slavery, he’ll do anything to win it back. Suffering from a handicap since the start of the novel, it allows an interesting and unique lead character as rarely you will find a novel featuring a major character with a disability such as Yarvi’s. Abercrombie handles it incredibly well and gives it that strong voice that keeps the character sympathetic as well as packing enough punch to hold the story.
Despite the fact that Half a King may be young adult, it is certainly one of the darker young adult novels that I’ve read and that is no surprise when you consider Abercrombie’s adult fiction. Despite the darker tone, the novel is very much a coming of age tale, and you can tell that although it sounds like familiar ground (I mean, how often have you heard a coming of age young adult fantasy book been described to you before?) but Abercrombie adds an interesting twist that keeps this book feeling fresh and at no point over the course of the novel did it feel dull. Abercrombie has a captivating way of engrossing readers and he did not disappoint at all, and as a result I wouldn’t be surprised if Half a King were to end up in my Top 10 books of 2014 come the end of the year.
I breezed through Half a King in three separate sittings, limited only by the length of my bus journey. If I didn’t have a stop to get off, I probably would have kept reading (I almost did towards the end) because the novel reads like a thriller, and you’ll be turning the pages desperate to find out what happens next, which is rare in a fantasy where attention to detail can often bog down the pace. Not so with Half a King. There is plenty of world building and you get enough details to keep you going but don’t let that put you off. The balance is handled well and Abercrombie, a veteran author, rarely puts anything wrong.
There are so few young adult novels that manage to maintain a certain level of unpredictability all the way through and Half a King is very much one of those. Its constant twists and turns, ramping up to a higher level near the end, had me hooked from start to finish and I couldn’t see what was coming next. The fact that Abercrombie manages to juggle all of these elements as well as allow for some great character development makes Half a King a must read that can’t be ignored. It’s just that good.
Even if there was nothing new about the coming of age premise, the way Abercrombie executed the narrative made the book compelling and engaging. It focuses more on the characters than the plot, and gives plenty of room for Yarvi and the others to grow. The villains are fleshed out as well and it’s great to see what Abercrombie has done with this. It’s always a bit of a risk when an author moves out of his traditional stomping ground (yes, Abercrombie may still be in the fantasy genre, but young adult fiction is a different beast to adult fiction entirely) and the author has adapted confidently, handing the new element well. As a result then, this book comes highly recommended, and if you’re a lover of fantasy in general then you can’t go wrong with Half a King. Let’s hope the rest of The Shattered Sea continues to be this impressive.