Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

18666047Joe Abercrombie takes us back to his violent world of politics and nearly constant warfare in Half a King. Gettland is one of many kingdoms around the Shattered Sea. Yarvi, the second son of Gettland’s king, never expected to be king. He was training to be a minister, almost ready to pass the last test and receive his posting. When his father and brother are killed in battle with Grom-gil-Gorm, king of Vansterland, Yarvi is pushed to take the Black Chair by his mother.

Yarvi is not a popular choice. Even if a birth defect hadn’t taken his left hand, the fact that he is not a big, burly bruiser like the rest of the Gettlanders makes everyone around him doubt him. His uncle and mother push him to declare war against Grom-gil-Gorm for revenge and to show everyone that he’s not weak. He agrees, against his better judgment, but swears an impressive oath to kill his father and brother’s murderers. The course of revenge never runs smoothly. After the first skirmish, Yarvi’s uncle, Odem, tries to have Yarvi killed. He manages to escape, right into the freezing sea. His luck gets worse. Yarvi is sold into slavery to a privateer and forced to row until he dies.

Yarvi does manage to turn his minister training to his advantage. He convinces his owner to unchain himself from the oars and make himself useful as a storekeeper. He makes an ally and hatches a plan to escape. The plan goes awry, of course, and Yarvi ends up trekking across frozen north with his motley band of ex-slaves. He convinces them to head for Thorlby, his capital, after telling them his story.

Half a King is a great story, well built and well paced. Abercrombie sprinkles the story with twists and turns, not that you need them to keep interested in Yarvi’s tale. He grows from a fearful boy to a “deep-cunning man.” The simple tale of revenge grows, too, into something much more complicated and realistic.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review. It will be released 15 July 2014.

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