- Series: Shattered Sea (Book 1)
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Del Rey; First Edition edition (July 15, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0804178321
- ISBN-13: 978-0804178327
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 822 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Half a King (Shattered Sea) Hardcover – July 15, 2014
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Yarvi succeeds to the throne of Gettland when his father and elder brother are killed. But Yarvi is a reluctant king. Because of a deformed hand, he has always felt an inadequate son to his father and now an inadequate king. He is engaged to his cousin, but his uncle is not interested in having a weakling for a son-in-law nor “half a king” for the country. The uncle’s coup topples Yarvi from the throne, but Yarvi escapes with his life. Yarvi’s escape leads, however, only to enslavement by people from neighboring Vansterland. Out from this situation emerges a long and arduous quest as Yarvi swears to avenge his father’s and brother’s deaths and dislodge his uncle from the throne. In the process, Yarvi attains a new maturity, the most important component of which is a newfound confidence. Defeat of his uncle does not mean that Yarvi steps up and occupies the throne again. Instead, he wisely effects an alternative scenario. The world building here is complete and convincing, and the characters are arresting in their all-too-human nature. --Brad Hooper
“A fast-paced tale of betrayal and revenge that grabbed me from page 1 and refused to let go.”—George R. R. Martin
“The Shattered Seas trilogy has worked its way into a very exclusive group of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. The pacing is perfect, the characters deep and true and real, the world rich and authentic, the plot full of twists and turns. Perhaps my favorite part is that no one is purely good or evil: Each and every character has layers upon layers that are a joy to discover. I tore through all three books and truly hope that someday Joe Abercrombie returns to this magnificent, captivating world.”—James Dashner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maze Runner
“Tremendously entertaining . . . lightning-fast and filled with a wonderful collection of rogues, villains and two-faced bastards . . . From the first chapter [Joe Abercrombie] wastes no time as the reader is swept up in a gripping tale of betrayal and revenge.”—SciFi Now
“Once this plot has its teeth in you, it will not let go. . . . Abercrombie’s masterful storytelling means that everything, from the characters that you come to love and despise, to the sprawling world that is explored, is enthralling.”—Fantasy Book Review
“Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea is a fantastic yet believable backdrop to Yarvi’s struggle, a vivid imaginary land.”—The Seattle Times
“Intriguing characters . . . nonstop action.”—Chicago Tribune
“Half a King is my favorite book by Joe Abercrombie so far, and that’s saying something.”—Patrick Rothfuss
“As in all Abercrombie’s books, friends turn out to be enemies, enemies turn out to be friends; the line between good and evil is murky indeed; and nothing goes quite as we expect. With eye-popping plot twists and rollicking good action, Half a King is definitely a full adventure.”—Rick Riordan
“Enthralling! An up-all-night read.”—Robin Hobb
“Polished and sharp, perhaps his most technically proficient novel yet . . . I dare you to read the first chapter and try not to turn the next page.”—Brent Weeks
“Half a King can be summed up in a single word: masterpiece. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a Viking saga. It’s a revenge tale and family drama and the return of the prodigal son. But most of all, it’s this: a short time alongside people as weak and blundering as we are and, in the midst of it all, as heroic. Far too short a time, as it turns out. What a wonderful book.”—Myke Cole
“Half a King is full of all the adventure I’ve come to expect from Abercrombie and a tenderness I never knew he had.”—Sam Sykes
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Abercrombie does an excellent job painting the outlines of a boy in this situation, raised in a cold, royal household, who trusts his mentor more than anyone in the world. He is well-suited to his apparent destiny as a minister, but quite suddenly finds himself thrust onto the throne - him and his shriveled half-hand that renders him an object of scorn among the people of the court.
More misadventure befalls Yarvi as the story finds its footing and, while somewhat predictable, is entertaining until the last twist reveals itself in the final few pages of the book. There is love, of a kind, between Yarvi and a fellow misadventurer; there is betrayal; there are forbidding parents and mysterious companions.
However, Half a King feels, ultimately, like half an Abercrombie book. A lot of the grit has been washed away from the story, grit that made Abercrombie a hit not that long ago with The First Law, and while I would certainly recommend Half a King to young adults rather than that other series, I would still hold that first trilogy as the better. Nonetheless, I look forward to reading Half the World, the next entry in the Shattered Seas trilogy.
If you're looking for the extreme "grittiness" of Abercrombie's other books, then this may not be for you. If you'd like a quick, enjoyable read with a tight story and great writing, then you'll probably enjoy Half a King. It's sold as "young adult," but it is infinitely better written than most of the YA fantasy I've read. Although some reviewers complained that the plot was simple or felt rushed, I appreciate that it's lean and to the point. I love a long, rambling epic, too, but it's refreshing to read something that feels planned. It's a quick read (and the Kindle price is great!), so it's a good book for when you aren't looking for a huge time investment.
Prince Yarvi lives in a society very similar to the Ironborn of George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones 5-Book Boxed Set (Song of Ice and Fire Series): A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons: harsh, cruel, and unforgiving of weakness. They follow Mother War, eschew Father Peace and present a juxtaposition within the two ideals, as the mother or feminine side is usually associated with tranquility whereas war and battle are typically portrayed as masculine.
As the second and youngest son of King Uthrik, Yarvi had neither hopes nor ambitions for the throne. He was meant for the ministry, studying under Mother Gundring, where having only one good hand would make no difference. Yarvi's bitterness bleeds on the page, because he cannot live up to his culture's expectations, and neither of his parents let him forget this.
"A man swings the scythe and the ax, his father had said. A man pulls the oar and makes fast the knot. Most of all a man holds the shield. A man holds the line. A man stands by his shoulder-man. What kind of man can do none of these things?
I didn’t ask for half a hand, Yarvi had said, trapped where he so often found himself, on the barren ground between shame and fury.
I didn’t ask for half a son."
His mother isn't much better in the beginning. She has nothing but scorn for her disabled child, but considering their culture, his parents' behavior makes perfect sense. It doesn't exist in a vacuum, but rather is a product of the harsh climate and culture they live in, which could be overlooked through the lens of presentism. This is not to say that Yarvi deserves his plight. He doesn't. No one does whether from ancient history or far flung future; however, his misery fits into that zeitgeist, and his reaction to the emotional abuse and gaslighting is timeless.
Unfortunately for Yarvi, his planned life of peace in the ministry is sundered when his father and brother are treacherously murdered during peace talks with the king of a rival island in the Shattered Sea. The "spare" heir now becomes the primary, and prior plans that would have been adequate for his life are thrown into tumult due to death's upheaval.
As the last living heir of Uthrik, Yarvi becomes king overnight. His mother Laithlin desires vengeance for the murders of her husband and eldest son, but she also knows to do nothing (despite the High King's decree forbidding open war) will portray them as weak. The erstwhile queen of Gettland is what Cersei Lannister wishes she could be. Though Laithlin has just as much pride, she is far more clever than Tywin's daughter, not seeking power for power's sake due to some false belief of entitlement, but rather to fully protect her interests. Though if this means making her remaining son her puppet (much to his downfall and rue) then be it so.
This novel also shares similarities to An Ember in the Ashes insofar as neither Yarvi nor Elias want the ruthless and terrible life that's been thrust upon them. Though they are king and elite soldier respectively, they're both insightful enough to realize these titles are merely a veneer over the truth of their bondage.
This book took me through a maelstrom of feelings. I bought it as soon as I read the sample, because I loved the way the author used language. Its beauty lies in its simplicity despite the cruel, unforgiving world it describes. However, I started to lose interest when Yarvi was crowned and half considered relegating this to the DNF pile. I thought it was going to be a boring narrative about how the prince turned king either slowly steered his warring subjects towards peace or conversely turned warlike himself. Neither of those options would have made sense for the Gettlanders or him, and I frankly enjoyed the irony of a king who had neither the ability nor the inclination to fight upon a throne held with blood. Then just when I was close to calling it quits, the novel turned into Hamlet/The Lion King.
Just mentioning those two narratives may give too much away, but even having such betrayal as a common trope did not take anything away from this tale. Yarvi is forced to become in a man in an even more brutal way than what he would've endured as only his mother's puppet and the one-handed King of Gettland.
It's yet another face of the Hero's Journey/Monomyth, and each and every betrayal and reveal ride the razor thin edge of being both utterly shocking yet absolutely fitting. Like ASOIAF there were little to any purely good or bad characters. Everyone had some valid motivation for their acts, and even the main antagonist of the tale, the person who tries to rob Yarvi of everything he has, earns some sympathy points from the reluctant king at the end.
Villainy and heroism are not static concepts, but rather dependent on point of view. Yarvi's betrayer believed he was acting for the good of the realm, because he and many others saw a weak prince who would become a weak king. In the world of the Shattered Sea, weakness gets you killed or enslaved. Their lives are too harsh to coddle. While Yarvi didn't deserve to be abused, Gettland both deserves and requires a king strong enough to lead and protect them. While the betrayer does have some selfish reasons for his actions, nor has he ever been wholly innocent, not all of his motivations are completely foul.
While Half a King certainly steers you towards the protagonist's side, even some of Yarvi's decisions are suspect and some of his orders are hypocritical. This makes him more relatable rather than unlikable, because the situations present a dilemma that anyone would be loath to resolve. There are no villains...there are only people doing their best.