We’ve been away in London for the last week, and I mostly took adult books with me to read, given that the week before I had immersed myself in children’s fiction. The one exception I made was to take the fantasy novel, Half A King by Joe Abercrombie with me. Abercrombie is probably best known for his adult fantasy fiction, but I hadn’t read any at all until Half A King. Lots of people had recommended him to me though, so I thought I’d start with his teen fiction.
Half a King tells the story of Yarvi, cripple and second son of King Uthrik of Throvenland. Yarvi has been in training all his life to become one of the wise ministers of the land. His crippled hand and cowardly temperament don’t leave him fit for much else, and up to the beginning of the book he has been nothing but a disappointment to his family.
Yarvi’s father and brother are both killed during a raid on a neighbouring country, and Yarvi must not only become king, he must also seek revenge for the terrible wrongs enacted upon his country and family. Yarvi is terrified, and his subjects are unenthusiastic to the point of treachery, which happens when Yarvi is cast to the mercies of his enemies by his own people.
Yarvi survives, but must learn to be a man, and find his way home to avenge his family and his name.
This is a fast paced, adventure quest based on ideas of Norse myths and Scandinavian geography and climate. It doesn’t specifically reference any of the ideas it pulls the narrative from, but if you know a little about the vikings and the pre-history of the norse men this will be familiar territory to you.
I enjoyed the book once it got going. I found Yarvi quite hard to warm to as a character at first. It was only when he got a bit of spine and started using his native cunning and the skills he had been trained for as a minister so that he could manipulate events in his favour that I really began to enjoy the book. It has plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat and some really unexpected plot lines that lift the last third of the book into a really fantastic read.
I’d recommend this to children aged eight and up. It’s supposed to be for teens, but it is fine for younger readers who have the confidence to cope with the strange names and place names. It is mostly a book that will appeal to boys and the cast is particularly boy heavy, although there are some strikingly powerful and interesting women characters that develop as the book goes on, and who I hope we see more of in the sequels. I am looking forward to reading the next two books that make up the trilogy known as The Shattered Sea trilogy.