Half a King – Book review of my first Joe Abercrombie book

Namo Namaha. This blog post is a review of my first Joe Abercrombie novel, Half a King.

Yes! Finally, I got around to reading a Joe Abercrombie book. As you all know his books are a staple for anybody who’s even mildly interested in high fantasy and I have been meaning to get started on his books for a very long time. And boy! Am I glad, I did it this time around!

Now high fantasy fans might be surprised by my odd choice of beginning Abercrombie’s literary work with the Shattered Sea series instead of The First Law trilogy, the series that catapulted him as one of the finest authors in this genre. The series that’s now spoken of in the same breath as those of Terry Pratchett’s, Brandon Sanderson’s, etc.

Yes, chronologically Half a King(2014) is one of his later books and I picked it up solely based on the excellent youtube video Beginner’s guide to Joe Abercrombie! by Holly Hearts Brooks, one of my favorite booktubers. Please do check out the video if you need more information on Joe Abercrombie’s books and the order in which you can read them.

As Holly has mentioned in the video, Half a King leans heavily on the side of YA fantasy than on the side of high/epic fantasy. So epic fantasy newbies like me can literally fly through the book while getting used to his writing style which might come in handy when I start with his heavier and deeper books. On that note, let’s move on to the review, shall we?

Book Name – Half a King
Author – Joe Abercrombie
Genre – Fantasy fiction
Category – High/Epic Fantasy
Type – Series/Trilogy
Book Number in Series – One
Year of publication – 2014
Goodreads rating – 3.97
Representation – Disabled person rep

Synopsis

Yarvi labeled a weakling owing to a crippled hand, becomes a reluctant King overnight, after the death of his Father King and heir apparent elder brother. His life as a King is shortlived when Yarvi becomes the victim of palace intrigues and is left for the dead.

Will Yarvi manage to stay alive long enough to take revenge on the ones who destroyed his humiliating but comfortable and protected life? Will he turn away from his weaknesses long enough to display his strengths, many of which he possesses?

One crippled boy’s fight against the brutal world that insists on defining perfection and beauty, forms the crux of the story.

Ruminations

The first thing that caught me was the ease with which the author manages to pull us into the story and lives of the characters in the story. The writing was so vivid and free-flowing that I was immediately in the grip of the story and the characters. I was invested in Yarvi, invested in that tiny human and his struggles. I desperately wanted him to catch a break, for him to get some friends.

I was not distracted or bored for even a second and that’s telling, because, just before I started this book I was feeling myself falling into a deep reading slump thanks to my latest reading spree that involved mediocre books. Thanks to this book I am now more pumped than ever to continue this series and more.

What appealed to me?

I liked the story. It was perfectly paced. It had enough twists and turns to keep me engaged. Though I guessed a few turning points in the story, I absolutely didn’t expect those last two twists! That was fantabulous!

The characters were deep enough to make you care. The motley group of six was so adorable that I went aww multiple times.

The writing style was also simply fantastic! I haven’t had such a smooth read in a very long time.

Another high point of this book was the way feminism was sprinkled throughout the book. Women were equally evil or noble. They were equally passive or active, like men. That kind of feminism was refreshing. A feminism that doesn’t necessarily thrive on only male-bashing! A sample of this beautiful theme via some of my favorite quotes from this book:

‘Strong men are many, wise men are few.’
‘No doubt why women make better ministers.’
‘And better tea, in general.’

A noteworthy theme throughout this novel was the gender-bending roles of Gods and Goddesses. For example, Father Moon and Mother Sun. This was the most jarring one for me. It took me some time to get used to the reference of Sun as Mother Sun because traditionally, Sun has been a masculine deity and coming from a Hindu culture even the moon is a masculine deity for me.

So while I was cool with Father Moon, Mother Sun evoked a cringe out of me every time I read it 🙂 guess that happens when fictional culture collides with the real ones? 🙂

Another interesting one was Father peace and Mother War. I was elated with this reference not only because it goes against the grain of popular tradition, but also because, it’s quite close to home for me.

In Hindu culture, we have both Rudra(angry/active/aggressive) and ShAntha(peaceful/serene/passive) avathAra of all our Gods and Goddesses, so while it’s common to see a Raudra Shiva and a peaceful mA Bhavani, it’s equally common to celebrate a Durga Devi who annihilates adharma and a peaceful SadAshiva.

Seeing the unconventional roles of a feminine war goddess and an even more unconventional masculine peace god, oversimplified though it is, in a positive light, in a story, gave me immense pleasure and hope.

Some quotes in this novel stayed with me even after I completed the story.

‘A warrior fights,’ she said, looking him in the eye. ‘A king commands.’

Another gem:

Another man broke in with a rousing bass, the song of Bail the Builder, who in truth had built nothing but heaps of corpses, and made himself the first High King with fire and sword and a hard word for everyone. Tyrants look far better when looked back on,

Ooh! the above is one of the best. A solid and true statement. Tyrant rulers still get hailed in India, their brutalities are whitewashed and they are regularly hailed as the best rulers! Can you believe there are tombs, monuments, roads, gardens still dotting my brutalized country in remembrance of such tyrants? Unfortunate, but true.

What didn’t appeal to me?

I honestly can’t think of a single thing that didn’t appeal to me about this book. But, if I have to nitpick, then, I might say I found the lack of fantastical elements very perplexing. This is a YA Fantasy? But, there was no magic, no supernatural events, none. There were mentions of elves, gods and goddesses and some mystical herbs, but that’s it.

If the names of the kingdoms weren’t fictional you could have easily assumed it was some old King’s tale complete with palace intrigues and usurpers. I do hope the other books in this series will have some fantastical elements in them to justify their presence in this genre?

Also, the story at times was reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings. Gang of unlikely companions undertaking an unwilling adventure? Returning the rightful king to his rightful throne? Even the mention of elves reminded me of Lord of the Rings.

Conclusion

I loved this book! I have started reading the next in the series Half the World and hope to continue and finish this series. I also aspire to get into Abercrombie’s epic fantasy series soon enough. Fingers crossed to achieve that goal.

Review, recommendation, and rating

Invest – worth buying and including it in your collection

Rrkreads rating – Invest grade. If I like all the books from this series I’ll upgrade it to Heirloom grade, some stories are meant to be passed on, but for now, this book is worthy of a place in your collection, especially if you are a fan of solid storytelling. Hence Invest grade.

I am culling half a point from 5 stars as I don’t plan on re-reading this particular novel, but because I am continuing with this series, it gets more than a 4-star rating. Hence I am settling for a 4.5 rating for this book.

So friends, over to you now. Have you read this book? What are your favorite Joe Abercrombie novels? Who are your favorite epic fantasy authors? Do let me know in the comments section. I’ll be glad to chat. Till then, stay blessed and happy. Om Shanti.

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