Review: Half A King by Joe Abercrombie

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 7:11 PM
Title: Half A King
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Published: July 15, 2014
Publisher: Del Rey
Series: Shattered Sea #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
“The fool strikes. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.”
― Joe Abercrombie, Half a King

I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper? 

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy. (Goodreads)
My Thoughts
There are some books that sneak up on you unawares, books that you weren’t eagerly anticipating or counting down the days till their release, but somehow fall into your lap nonetheless. Half A King was one of those books for me. A couple of weeks ago, I was unaware of its existence, but after reading one review and spotting it on Netgalley, I knew I had to have it. Less than a day later, I found myself lost in its pages, always happy to explore another fantasy world. Half A King was a challenging book to review, and I put off writing this review for far too long. While I enjoyed it, I also had some major issues with it, leaving me torn and unable to express my feelings. Half a King may have fallen short of my expectations, but it still offered an enthralling tale full of adventure and friendship, betrayal and revenge.

Half A King is my first Abercrombie read, and it just so happens to be his YA debut as well. The story pulled me in from the very start, and I couldn’t bear to rip my eyes away. A fast-paced tale, I was scrolling through the pages like a madwoman, eager to reach the end and see if Yarvi avenges his father and brother’s deaths. The writing did not disappoint, as Abercrombie paints an ever-darker picture, escalating in tension as Yarvi escapes death only to find himself enslaved on a pirate ship. Despite the sorrowful beginning, and the bleaker scenes scattered throughout, there are many light-hearted moments as the characters become fast friends, moments I clung to for reassurance in the hope of a happy ending.

Yarvi may not compare to Edmond Dant├Ęs or Inigo Montoya, other protagonists who have sought revenge to the bitter end, but I felt his pain as he comes up against one obstacle after another in Half A King. He is not always a likeable protagonist; far from a hero, he often shrinks away from conflict, allowing others to fight his battles. Yet as the book progresses, he slowly emerges as a stronger individual, having suffered so much but still struggling onward towards his goal. He may not inspire admiration or respect, but he is a realistic character, embittered and betrayed, clever but narrowly focused on his quest for revenge. I may not understand some of the choices he makes, or even agree with them, but overall, he was a convincing character.

While the protagonist seemed promising, and the story was adventure-filled, Half A King failed to reach its full potential. Besides Yarvi, we are introduced to a host of other characters, each of them with wildly different personalities, and I was expecting each character to stand out with their oddities and varied backgrounds. Unfortunately, I feel like these characters were never fully realized, as they failed to leave an impression. I found the characterization of these secondary characters not only rushed but insufficient, as I wanted more detail and back story than I received. Given a mere glimpse of each character’s past, I was left dissatisfied and hungry for more, and I found it difficult to connect with the characters. I’m hoping the later installments will explore the characters in greater depth, so that I can empathize with them instead of feeling unconcerned with their comings and goings.

I found Yarvi’s trust in his companions, and also their unquestioning loyalty to him, developed at an unrealistically fast pace. Yarvi had hardly sat down at his oar before he had befriended his two oarmates, and the camaraderie between them just never rang true for me. It would have been far more believable if Yarvi had slowly earned their trust, finding friends in the most unexpected of places. As for the romance, there is only a hint of it throughout Half A King, but even that small, barely there spark seemed far-fetched and random. I needed a little more dialogue between the two characters in order for me to be convinced, but hopefully, this will be built on further in later books.

If there was one aspect of Half A King that truly stood out for me it was the religion of this people, a religion that borrows elements from Christianity, Greek mythology and a mix of our own religious beliefs. Whenever a religious story was shared, I found myself even more deeply immersed in the storyline, craving more knowledge and a deeper understanding of their religious background. I loved the unexpected switch of gender for their gods. We have Mother Sea instead of Poseidon; the god of peace, usually a female, is now Father Peace. Half A King takes all gender roles and stereotypes and reverses them, giving us goddesses that are violent and volatile, and gods that are peaceful and gentle. I can't help but wish that there had been just a little more background, maybe a few more stories or instances where the religion is delved into more. Since Yarvi’s people have reached an age where religion is evolving, and religious groups are splitting, the beliefs are central to the plot and could use more exploration. But I’m sure we will be given more details in future installments.

Half A King was a promising debut, speaking to Abercrombie’s writing skills, but it was only half the fantasy I had hoped it would be. A riveting read, I could not peel my eyes away from start to finish. Yet the world building and characterization left something to be desired, and I’m hoping the later books improve. It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll continue on with this series, but I’m thinking I will, if only because I’m curious to see how Yarvi will develop even more in the future books.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


  1. I felt very similar to you on this book - I read it fast and it was interesting, but in the end I was just not very impressed. This book just wasn't as memorable for me. (and incidentally my review is going up tomorrow!)

    I did enjoy the camaraderie with his quirky friends though - I thought it was the best part of the book. Hopefully the next book in this series is better!

  2. I read the first part of this and definitely found the romance to be lacking in depth and though the plot twist has captured my interest, I'm fairly certain I've guessed another plot twist already since the deceptions seem to be along the same vein. Still, I'm glad that despite a few issues you still enjoyed this and I hope my predictions won't ruin my ability to enjoy the rest of the novel.

  3. I haven't heard about this book. Thanks for putting this on my radar, especially when I'm craving good adventurous fantasy. Yarvi sounds like I might like him, and the gender switch is another interesting aspect. I'm curious to see how the whole story is played out. Although, this book didn't impress you as much as you anticipated it to be, I hope the rest of the series, assuages that feeling. Gorgeous review, Courtney!! :)

  4. I actually haven't heard of this one before, but I love a good fantasy novel. I do worry that the romance aspect fell flat, but overall, it sounds pretty solid! Lovely review!

  5. I absolutely love this book. For my first Abercrombie book as well, I was not let down. At first I was bummed that it wasn't a full on Fantasy, with more detailed writing but for a YA Fantasy, it was down well. I'm so impressed with Abercrombie's storytelling that I decided to read some more of his work. Currently I'm reading, The Blade Itself, book one is The First Law series. So far, so AMAZING!
    Love your blog!
    New Follower xoxo
    Michelle @ Book Hangovers Blabs Books


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