Half a King is a Whole Lot of Fun

half a kingHalf a King
Joe Abercrombie
Del Rey
Trade Paper, $15, 346 p.

Half a King is on the shortlist for this year’s Gemmell Awards.  It has been a few years since I read Abercrombie.  (I’m still holding out for a British edition of Red Country.)  I’d forgotten just how good a writer he is.  It’s easy to see why this book is on the shortlist.

Half a King isn’t as dark as some of Abercrombie’s other books.  Still, it’s not all sunshine at light.  The book was written by the man whose Twitter handle is LordGrimDark, after all.

The story opens with Prince Yarvi preparing to leave home and take his Minister’s exam.  A Minister is the chief adviser to a king.  Only his father and brother have just been murdered by another king.  Now Yarvi’s career path takes a decided different track.  One that no one really wants to see him, including Yarvi himself.

Yarvi was born with only half a left hand.  He’s weak and cowardly.  He’s no one’s idea of a king, certainly not in a world where strength and conquest are among the most prized virtues.

Yarvi tries to live up to the expectations placed upon him, but he is soon betrayed.  Believed dead by his family and subjects, he is sold into slavery, where he ends up an oarsman on a pirate ship.  Vowing to regain his throne and kill the man who usurped it, Yarvi begins to look for every opportunity to regain his freedom and return home.

This is in many ways a coming of age story.  Those are a dime a dozen.  Half a King proves that in the hands of a good writer, even the most used storyline can become fresh and entertaining.

Yarvi is forced to live by his wits.  You can see the change coming over him as the story progresses.  He changes from a sniveling coward to a king over the course of the story.  And while not all of his decisions turn out to be good ones, he does show that thinking and planning can be superior to strength.

This is a fast paced, character driven book with lots of well written fight scenes and plenty of humor to keep things from getting too grim.  And there’s an interesting twist at the end I didn’t see coming.

I can see why Half a King made the short list for the David Gemmell Legend Award.  Read it, and you’ll see why as well.

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