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Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie

Read (July 13-28, 2014)
Book: Half A King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie
Publication Date: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Del Rey
Number of Pages: 352
Genre/s: Young Adult, Fantasy
Source: ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley


“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. (source

I love fantasy because of its grandiosity in world-building and characters, and although I don't read much from this genre anymore, I always find myself gravitating towards it whenever I felt like embarking on an epic adventure. As my first Joe Abercrombie fantasy novel, I could say Half A King didn't disappoint.

In a way, Half A King is a tricky novel to judge. I do believe my whining is entirely subjective but it deeply correlates with how I rated this book. It is engaging and gripping, yes, but I never got the urge to finish it like I usually get with a fantasy novel. It probably had something to do with me not being completely invested about Yarvi's quest. Now, don't get me wrong. I rooted for Yarvi and I wanted him to be successful in his revenge. It's just that I never really wanted for him to become a king in the first place. I wanted him to be as far away to the Black Chair as possible. It's a little silly, I know.

Yarvi, our main protagonist, loathes himself and his physical handicap. I am positive that Yarvi's character would endear him to anyone that will read about him. He's a boy broken by his father, the King's angry disappointments, his mother, the Queen's coldness,  his brother, the preferred heir's mock-up tolerance and his subject's disregard and contempt for him. He was never good enough for anyone and he had hated himself for the longest time because of this.
“...I spent half my childhood in the shadows. Hiding from my father or my brother. Creeping from one place of solitude to another. Seeing while unseen, and pretending I was a part of what I saw. Making up a life where I wasn't an outcast.” 
Yet, we'll come to know how all these will inevitably shape him as he experienced almost never-ending hardships and sufferings in such a short time span. Betrayed by all those he had come to trust, Yarvi unexpectedly became someone who was more suited for power. From a boy who lacked brute strength, he became a man brimming with deep cunning. His thirst to prove himself and fulfill his oath made me realized which ability is more effective—and by extent—more lethal of the two.
“The fool strikes, ...The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.”
As with a fantasy novel, Half A King presents an array of characters. Yarvi formed an unlikely fellowship among his group of misfits whose luck are as rotten as his. They build an odd relationship that started simply as a necessity but resulted in trust and genuine attachment in the long run. This is the best relationship arc, in my opinion.
“He had been betrayed by his own family, his own people, and found loyalty among a set of slaves who owed him nothing. He was so pathetically glad of it he wanted to weep. But he had a feeling he would need his tears later.”
There's not much world-building here, which I didn't really mind because Abercrombie made up for it with his wonderful characterization. Abercrombie will make you think of his character's actions, and I really appreciated that no character is ever fully good or bad and that Yarvi is no exception. Abercrombie additionally introduces brilliant female characters that are as cunning and clever as the males in this novel. Also, after the readers have traveled with Yarvi and his crew all around the Shattered Sea, the story had somehow managed to come full circle. I love circles, have I told you?

Overall, Abercrombie achieves to write a novel that is as fierce as the best warrior's sword-fighting skills and is as solid as its dialogues. Half A King would greatly appeal to readers of the fantasy genre, no matter what the age group is.

Cupid's Verdict:
3.5 Cupids
A copy was provided by the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review. 

35 comments:

  1. I think Half a King is actually set in somehow in a alternate universe... like same earth, different names and all that, and it was the time of the Vikings :D Maybe that's why there wasn't much need for world-building on his part, although you are right that the characterization is really awesome. I loved Yarvi here, and I loved how this book redefined YA Fantasy for me, which honestly is full of romance and not much fantasy. Can't wait to read the next book! Abercombie says it will be when he's older (like early or late twenties I think) and far grittier than this!

    Faye at The Social Potato

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    2. I would've wanted to see the world of Vikings via Abercrombie's words but I digress. :) I think YA Fantasy is at its best when it doesn't focus on romance or maybe has a little romance sprinkled in but never having it in the center of the story.

      I cannot wait too! I'm excited to see how much Yarvi has grown into his new title and if he will ever sit in the Black Chair again. Grittier fantasy for the win!

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  2. LOL! The author's surename makes me laugh :) Memorable at least ;) The first sentence of your review, Sarah? I. LOVE. SO. HARD. YES YES YESSSS TO ALL OF IT!!!! Sorry Yarvi's quest wasn't as enticing for you as it could have been. I have a love-hate relationship with characters like Yarvi. I mean, on one hand, you want to love them and root for them, but on the other hand, self-loathing can get old very fast. (That's what happened when I was reading The Artist Trilogy by Karina Halle >.<) Best relationship arc indeed :) So lots of grey area with the characters? I like that! I'm glad you liked this as a whole even if it wasn't your favorite fantasy read. Great, thorough review, Sarah :)

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    1. Of all things you will notice, I am not surprised it's the author's name. I think I giggled a little bit myself when I first read it. *snickers*

      Yarvi's quest is enticing. It's just that I loved the journey more than the destination. Does that even make sense? It's definitely not my favorite fantasy but I think it's one of the good ones and I have a feeling that the series will just get better and better. Plus, the characters are just intensely fleshed-out and the ending was so nicely done so I'm all up for another dip into the Shattered Sea. ;)

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  3. I like that the female characters are on the same playing field as the males, but I wish that there was more world-building because that's a key element in the Fantasy genre IMO. Besides, Jessica already reviewed this one so I am off the hook. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    1. Yes, the world-building could've been handled a bit better but I'm actually relieved that at least the world-building it has didn't bog down the flow the story. Yes, there's a lot to be said for strong female characters. :)

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  4. I liked how dark the story was but, yeah, we needed some more worldbuilding. And Yarvi. Kind of a sad sack but I liked how he pulled it together and did his best to survive.

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    1. I just had to laugh at Yarvi being a sad sack! HAHAHA. You gotta admit though that he had grown so much and became much stronger in the end. :)

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  5. I agree there definitely wasn't as much world building but Nothing totally captured me. And as soon as Yarvi stopped being a whiney ass I was loving it - so pretty much once he got on that trader ship.

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    1. Nothing's character reveal was so surprising. Yes, Tabitha, I wish there was more worldbuilding. I hope we get our wish in the next installments.

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  6. I have seen a couple reviews for this one and overall it seems like everyone has really enjoyed it and that it is a good start to a series.
    Wonderful review!

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    1. Thank you! It's definitely off to a good start. I cannot wait to read the next installment!

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  7. Half a King sounds like it truly shines when it come to its characterization. Hopefully the story will expand in the world-building department as well. Wonderful rview :)

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    1. It does! It's one of the main strengths of this novel. I really hope Abercrombie would give a focus in the worldbuilding because I can't wait to fully visualized this world. Thanks so much, Kim!

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  8. Great review, I am a fantasy nut and may try this one for the characters you described :)

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    1. Thanks Becca! I hope you'll like it as well!

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  9. I've been hearing so many good things about this one, Sarah! Glad you enjoyed it... more or less. I usually find it hard to connect with characters in "epic" fantasies, too. Yarvi definitely does sound like an endearing character, though. I love how you said that the characters are on the gray side of things... not all good and not all bad. I'm curious about the badass sounding female characters as well! Awesome review, girl!

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    1. Thank you so much, Aimie!! :) Yes, it's always the ambiguous characters that inspire intrigue. I think you would love the female characters, Aimee. Abercrombie really shined in that respect.

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  10. At least there is great characterization, But, still, I think world-building is one of the most important things for a fantasy book to be successful since, duh, the author creates a world, why not creating it AND developing it at the same time? LOL Anyway, I will read this book for sure. The premise sounds just so original and great. Gorgeous review, love. :)

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    1. I do hope that we'll get more world-building in the next installment. There were some interesting tidbits here and there and I would love to really know more. I hope you'll like this once you've read it, Lola. Thank you, lovely! :)

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  11. Love the review! I'm a little on the bias side since this was one of my favorite fantasies of the year, but I'm glad you had an overall enjoyable experience.

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    1. Thank you! While this is not my favorite fantasy novel, it's definitely one of the good ones, Kathleen. :) I can really see the appeal and the strengths of this novel. It'd definitely not be my last Abercrombie book.

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  12. I've been reading such great things about this book Sarah! It's on my TBR list for sure. I don't think I'll mind the lack of world-building too much as long as the characterization is really strong, and it sounds like it is. I can't wait to meet Yarvi, I have an epic soft spot for broken or damaged characters (emotionally or physically) and I'm already a little in love with him. Fantastic review!

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    1. He is a fantastic character, Jenny! He may not be strong but he makes up for it in other aspects. I hope you'll love this one! :)

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  13. This one is really high on my wishlist and I knew that I will love it, but I'm a fantasy fan and this kind of stories always correspond with me. But I totally understand how you feel about this one. It's really hard to review or rate the book when everything was nicely done and had its purpose but you simply wasn't in the story. I'm really sorry it happened for you with this one. Great review, Sarah.

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    1. Thank you, Tanja! I was in the story. It's just that I enjoyed the journey more than its destination. I would definitely recommend this if you're a fantasy fan. :D

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  14. I love high fantasy and always expect an epic worldbuilding when I get started on one. For that I was sure I wouldn't love this one but to hear the author made up for it by great characterization sounds great to me! I'm team underdog all the way and Yarvi, for one, is a hero I would definitely root for. I also looked this up on GR and saw that Patrick Rothfuss gave it 5 stars soo *adds to tbr* Fab review, Sarah!

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    1. I know! A fantasy must always have a solid worldbuilding. I really hope we would get more information about this world in the next installment. Yarvi is an endearing character, though, and characterization is really great in this book. Patrick Rothfuss is the man! I'd read anything he recommends too. :D

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  15. This one's new to me! I don't think I've seen it around before, which is surprising because I'm usually ALL over fantasies. I definitely like what I'm hearing because I'm always into good characterization! I DO quite like my world building in fantasies though so it's a bit of a bummer to hear that this one wasn't so strong in that... maybe that will be developed a bit more in the sequel? I hope so! Really well done review ^^

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    1. You haven't seen this around before? Aylee, how big is that rock you've been living in? XD Characterization is the bestest and I really hope so that the worldbuilding gets developed in the sequel too. Thank you so much!

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  16. I'm the only one who hasn't read this! fadsfadtfasdftwdf. Oh, LIFE! Hahaha. Thanks for reminding me, Sarah! You're not the only one who gave this a glowing review so I really cannot wait to dive into this book.

    Love your review!! <3

    Paula M. @ Her Book Thoughts!

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    1. Haha. Thank you so much! It's my pleasure to remind you of this, Paula. I cannot wait for you to read this. I hope you like it as well! :D

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  17. While the characterization seems undeniably very strong, I don't think I would appreciate the lack of world building. For me, when it comes to fantasy, world building is what I mostly look forward to because of the vast different possibilities. So, I'm a bit disappointed to hear that the world building isn't that strong. I do however love the sound of the relationships that the main character builds with the other characters.
    I'm glad you liked it overall despite not being completely invested.
    Great review, Sarah!

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    1. Thanks, Nick! I'm really hoping we get know more about this Viking world in the next installments. The characterization and the character dynamics are what really made this book great for me. I'm definitely excited to read more from this series. :)

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