I sped through Joe Abercrombie’s latest, Half a King, in one sitting. It’s the fantasy coming-of-age tale for fans of Game of Thrones, The Emperor’s Blades, or Red Rising that won’t bog you down with subplots and elaborate, near-annotated family trees. This is a pure tale of a young man’s coming-of-age, of revenge and friendship, the brutality of life and the conquering of fear.
Yarvi is a prince of Gettland, but he’s the ‘lesser’ son of the king, so he’s being trained to be a Minister (seer, chemist, adviser) to the king instead, as our story opens. Yarvi’s inadequacy is apparent for all to see, as he was born with a crippled hand, and must choose between a blade or a shield, unable to bear both. But the tides of this Shattered Sea series premiere change when his father and elder brother are murdered, and he’s crowned king.
It’s a short-lived coronation before he’s betrayed by those close to him, and he finds himself enslaved in a foreign land. It bears similarity to the story of Joseph in Genesis 37, sold into slavery by his brothers, but here, this ostracized prince draws a motley crew of former slaves to him. While not exactly Spartacus, Yarvi proves that he can compensate for what he lacks with cunning, guile, and… compassion, in the appropriate times.
Working his way back to Gettland, Yarvi discovers love, courage, and identity, not in what he is not but in what he is. He proves noble, courageous, and strong in ways that he never imagined possible because he was constantly told he was not. He, like the shepherd boy David, proves to be made up of what he is internally, and not what appearances others focus on (I Samuel 16:7). He becomes heroic, and in the process, we see that what we thought we knew (in several layers) may not be true at all.
Abercrombie’s latest is a gripping, entertaining read, where we question the reality we see, and hold on, hoping that our heroes will find success. Still, he proves a nimble narrator, like George R.R. Martin, proving to be less concerned with sentimental attachments, and more focused on the narrative of who people become and what we can learn from them.