Half a King is Joe Abercrombie’s first YA novel and the first part of the Shattered Sea trilogy.
The protagonist is Prince Yarvi, who is studying to become a healer/priest/diplomat. He has a twisted hand which means he can’t wield a weapon, somewhat of a disadvantage in a medieval setting where might is right. But that’s ok, he’s the second son of the king and is free to use his brain instead.
Then Yarvi’s father and older brother are killed in an ambush and Yarvi’s life changes. He must assume the throne. He wrestles with his feelings of inadequacy and is beginning to come to terms with his new role when his uncle betrays him, usurps the throne and leaves him for dead.
Yarvi rashly swears an oath to avenge his father and regain his throne, but he has been captured and sold as a slave, so first he has to get free and get home.
I’m a fan of Joe Abercrombie and Half a King certainly confirmed that. I’m not a young adult so I don’t read YA novels often. I loved this and am eagerly awaiting the second in the series.
Yarvi is not an entirely likeable character. Throughout the book he learns his own strength and discovers that he can be a leader. He also learns how to be ruthless. He has some hard choices to make and sometimes there’s no good outcome whatever you do. This is a lot to put on young shoulders. Watching Yarvi’s growth is fascinating.
There are layers and layers of plot full of twists and betrayals. I’m impressed by the way every twist makes perfect sense within the story yet I was surprised by each one. It’s no mean feat.
The supporting characters are great and have real presence. Nothing is a favourite of mine. It was clear from the beginning that he was not what he seemed, but I was still surprised by the reveal at the end of the book.
I was a little disappointed by the small proportion of female characters in the book. Even given a medieval setting more could have been made of the ones that were there and there could have been more of them. I did like the discovery at the end of the book that the real reason for all these layers of betrayal was an attempt to neutralise a powerful female character, so there is hope that there will be greater balance in the sequels.
Overall, I loved it and would highly recommend it for adults of all ages.
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