I found myself at the beach, struggling through One Hundred Years of Solitude. A great, winding book with some astonishingly good writing… but also with a plodding sense of inevitability that left me bored. So bored. That’s when I saw that Joe Abercrombie’s new release. Now, I’ll preface this with the fact that I loved his First Law series. The third book did not have the typically satisfying ends that can come in a novel of such epic scope, but until that point they were compelling, rich, and most importantly: well-written. Here is the summary from Amazon:
“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.”
Having read a great deal of YA this summer (Red Rising, Divergent, etc.) I dove greedily into Half a King and found it to be an excellent beach read. Here’s what I liked, and what I didn’t.
1. Word for Word Writing- The obvious difference that I noticed between this and a book like Divergent is that it’s just excellently written. Joe Abercrombie uses turns of phrase and twisted descriptions that really are without equal in this genre. I think we put up with authors who write competent descriptions because they’ve captured a unique idea or character or angle. I believe The Hunger Games really falls into this category. Is Collins a good writer? Of course. Is she excellent? Does she have brilliant phrasings that capture things the way we wished we could say or think them? Ehhh… What we can celebrate about Half a King is that it is written by an author who does not have to rely on a clever idea, but one that backs his ideas and characters with brilliant writing.
2. The Disabled Narrator- Yarvi is born without a hand. I believe that Abercrombie has really captured something that is so often missing in our fantasy genres… Characters of imperfection. Characters that are considered a certain way by their society because of their disabilities. Yarvi’s anger/bitterness/resentment/self-deprecation also seem incredibly authentic. I just felt slightly annoyed because… you know… I had my character losing fingers… which now seems not so unique. Oh well.
3. Triumphant Scenes- There are three or four scenes in this story, just like there were three or four scenes in each of Abercrombie’s other books, that simply rise above the rest. The fulfillment of character arc or the flash of unique magic/world building… they just astound you sometimes.
4. The Worldbuilding- While this really does fit a Viking saga kind of world… he’s built an interesting backdrop of gods and setting. I love how the pieces fit together and it aids his storyline.
What I Didn’t Love…
1. Some Predictability- While this is expected in the YA genre, I was surprised to find some of the reveals were easy to spot early on. I think there was one surprise that popped up and I said, “Wow, didn’t see that one coming.” The rest took only a bit of digging to unearth.
2. Convenience of Events– I didn’t know how else to say this one… Sometimes an author knows where they need and want the plot to go. I’m having trouble with that in my second book right now actually. But if you push a plot towards an “end” that isn’t the natural result of your character interactions or desires… sometimes it feels convenient or thrown together. I felt a little bit of that in this story, but only just so.
All in all, Half a King was easily my second favorite YA book this summer. I have to admit that I am still a little bit taken by Red Rising. The overall framework of Joe Abercrombie’s novel has a better pace to it than Red Rising does, but once Darrow is in the “arena”… well, you can’t really beat the action in there. Great book, though, and I’d recommend it heartily.