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Shattered Sea #1

Half a King

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Betrayed by his family and left for dead, Prince Yarvi, reluctant heir to a divided kingdom, has vowed to reclaim a throne he never wanted.

But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself - all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of a hard, cold world, he cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he has sharpened his mind to a deadly edge.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast, he finds they can help him more than any noble could. Even so, Yarvi's path may end as it began - in twists, traps and tragedy...

336 pages, Hardcover

First published July 3, 2014

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About the author

Joe Abercrombie

115 books26.1k followers
Joe Abercrombie was educated at Lancaster Royal Grammar School and Manchester University, where he studied psychology. He moved into television production before taking up a career as a freelance film editor. During a break between jobs he began writing The Blade Itself in 2002, completing it in 2004. It was published by Gollancz in 2006 and was followed by two other books in The First Law trilogy, Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings. He currently lives and works in London with his wife and daughter. In early 2008 Joe Abercrombie was one of the contributors to the BBC Worlds of Fantasy series, alongside other contributors such as Michael Moorcock, Terry Pratchett and China Mieville.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,925 reviews
Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 89 books232k followers
February 16, 2014
First off, I would like to taunt you all just a little bit. Because I got to read an ARC of this book and you have to wait until it comes out in July.

But I can say this: This particular book is worth the wait.

I've been a fan of Abercrombie's stuff for years. His worldbuilding is great, his characterization is marvelous, he writes an amazing action scene...

Yeah, simply said, his craft is undeniably excellent.

That said, sometimes I put down one of his books and think to myself, "Well, I guess everything sucks and everyone in the world is awful and we're all pretty much fucked in the end, aren't we?"

Sometimes his books leave me feeling a little bleak. And honestly, someone that can make me feel that way is a fucking master. But at the same time, I'm not always up for reading bleak. That's something I have to be in the mood for.

This book didn't hit me that way. I got all the grit that I love in Abercrombie, and the craft, and the character. And the book was grim... but it never got so far as being bleak.

Simply said, I think this is my favorite Abercrombie book yet. And that's really saying something.

Is it worth your time? Absolutely.

What's more, it's a stand-alone. So you can jump in here even if you haven't read his other stuff.

So jump in.
Profile Image for Brent Weeks.
Author 62 books21.4k followers
April 9, 2014
Opportunities to blurb one’s nemesis are rare indeed. Having been published in ye olde aught-7, Joe Abercrombie is the elder in our Sith-padawan duo, whilst I have only been in print since late, late 2008. Our careers have followed similar trajectories: each of us receiving early and effusive critical praise (oh wait, that was him), each of us selling millions of books (him more millions–or a more… ebullient publicist), each of us winning the David Gemmell Legend Award (oh wait, that was me), each of us being dubbed George R. R. Martin’s heir apparent (oh wait, that was neither of us). I taught swing dancing in college; Joe does a wicked hip-hop-folk-dance-locomotion-twist-Macarena fusion that you wouldn’t believe. As you can see, the similarities are eerie.

When I opened the package containing Joe’s book (not addressed to me), I rubbed my hands together. I cackled. I stroked my beard. I got to work.

The trick, of course, is to write something that sounds positive, but may not be. You also have to avoid fragments that can be pulled that undermine your snarkish intent: “I love John’s frequent use of correct punctuation in his work!” could be undermined. A canny publicist will pull real praise out of a reckless phrase, like so: “I love John’s…work.” or, stretching morality, even “I love [this] work!”

If you write something the publisher doesn’t use at all, you’ve failed. (That is, unless you can get it to stick on Goodreads or Amazon.) And if you write something amazing but not specific to the target, people will just attribute it to Mark Twain. (“Any brilliant double-edged quote from an American author will be attributed to Mark Twain.” –Mark Twain) As you can see, a daunting task indeed.

So… a quote for Joe Abercrombie, eh? *cracks knuckles*

There are myriad correct ways to address Joe Abercrombie’s work; one of them even involves praise.

Let’s just get this out of the way. The low-hanging fruit*:
Though slender, I wouldn’t call it half a novel. Half a King isn’t half bad!
Is Half a King Abercrombie’s best yet? You’ll half to see for yourself!

*reviewers punning on the Half in the titles of this series, that there is a sin of weakness–unless you can make many puns in your review or find one that others have overlooked. I know, it’s hard to resist. You’ll be forgiven the “half” puns on this first novel. Do it on novel two and three, and you’ll earn sighs and derision, respectively.

Hitting where it hurts (the wallet):
There is only one way to show how much I enjoyed this book: I scanned it and am distributing it to the whole internet for free!

Here’s a good one for readers who like to believe they don’t look down on the YA genre:
Now writing Young Adult fantasy, Joe Abercrombie has finally found his intellectual home.

The baffling, yet catchy:
This book seals it: Joe Abercrombie is the Kanye West of fantasy.

The sneaky slander:
Critics have wondered, is there a Joe Abercrombie without the f-word? Fuck yes!

The secretly snarky:**
Will this novel make shortlists everywhere? Well, I certainly wouldn’t give it the axe!

**Only works if you know a rarely-used idiom, AND that the Gemmell Award is a battle axe.

The grimdark (the challenge here being to attach the mildly pejorative label “grimdark” to Joe’s work without ever using the term directly):
Some worried that Abercrombie’s move to Young Adult novels would mean a loss of his grim, dark tone. Though the events of this novel are often grim, dark themes aren’t overwhelming. Much as in the Brothers Grimm, dark colors are used to highlight moments of humor.

The needlessly cruel (may be attributed to Mark Twain):
Definitely worth picking up from the remainders shelf.
Worth every penny I paid for it. (My thanks to the publisher for the free review copy.)
I look forward to being able to get the whole series for half off.

My real blurb:
Perhaps his most technically proficient novel yet, I dare you to read the first chapter and try not to turn the next page. Some wondered if what makes Joe Abercrombie so different would survive the transition to YA. Abercrombie fans, have no fear: Polished and sharp, the un-adult-rated Abercrombie is still unadulterated Abercrombie.

Ugh, you have no idea how my stomach sinks to write actual praise. Dammit, Joe.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
August 1, 2015
Once, after his father had hit him in a rage, Yarvi's mother had found him crying. The fool strikes, she had said. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns.
Then strikes.

Half a King is the kind of book that creeps up on you gradually, painting a picture of kingdoms and slavery and backstabbing until you think this is basically another fantasy set in the comfort zone of the genre, and then it hits you hard when you least expect it. I kid you not, there were three huge "twists" in this book and I remained completely oblivious to all of them until they were upon me. It is the first twist (a few chapters in) that sucks you into this story... and I found myself unable to stop reading from then on.

I'm really picky when it comes to traditional fantasy (as opposed to urban fantasy or fairytale retellings) because I find it falls into one of two extremes - either it is too lengthy, dense and wordy for my tastes, or it is "fantasy-lite" masquerading as real fantasy whilst really being all about that boy with the tortured soul. This is neither of those. It is a gritty and fast-paced tale of survival, betrayal and friendship. I started reading this in my back garden under the hot afternoon sun and I was so addicted to Yarvi's story that I was still there when the sun began to set.

The story opens when Yarvi - the king's youngest son and the not-so-proud owner of a crippled hand - finds out his father and brother have been killed and he must take his rightful place on the throne. Everyone is skeptical as to whether a crippled "half-king" can really rule over the people of Gettland, even Yarvi himself. I won't give away spoilers, but Yarvi's life takes a rapid turn downhill from there and plunges him into one threatening situation after another. Circumstances see him being forced miles away from his home, barely able to defend himself with his crippled hand.

It's a real underdog kind of story and Yarvi is a complex character that simultaneously evokes sympathy and is allowed to make mistakes, do horrible things and screw people over to survive. He is one of those flawed but likable characters whose actions, even at his worst, feel understandable and realistic. He constantly faces threats from all sides, whilst also battling with nature's demons out in the wilderness. And I swear I could feel the icy cold coming through even in the middle of July - Abercrombie works setting and atmosphere together very well.

Despite my love for Yarvi, this book wouldn't have been the same without the varied and interesting cast of secondary characters. They all provide something important to the novel, whether it be the underlying theme of friendship and finding a place as an outcast that features heavily throughout the story, or some much-needed moments of comic relief. The character Nothing especially made me laugh:

Nothing smiled. Yarvi was starting to get nervous when Nothing smiled. "And they will come ashore, tired and wet and foolish, just as we have, and we will fall upon them."
"Fall upon them?" said Yarvi.
"We six?" asked Ankran.
"Against their twenty?" muttered Jaud.
"With a one-handed boy, a woman and a storekeeper among us?" said Rulf.
"Exactly!" Nothing smiled wider. "You think just as I do!"


He saw Nothing hop a few steps from the bank and raise his sword high, point downwards.
"Are you mad?" Yarvi screeched, before he realized.
Of course he was.

And even though women are not often sword-wielding warriors in this world, Abercrombie's female characters were fantastic, in my opinion. They were strong but flawed, deeply complex and varied. Those considered "good" had faults and those considered villains had multiple layers to them. Though this could really be said for all characters. There are no mindless villains in this book and it makes the story all the more compelling, because the author doesn't make it easy for us to group people into "goodies" and "baddies". As Rulf says:

"If life has taught me one thing, it's that there are no villains. Only people, doing their best."

Plus - the ending was PERFECT. I wasn't sure how the author would tie it all together and still leave us with something that would make me need to get my hands on the sequel - but he did. The novel's climax is an incredible show of drama and excitement, followed by a couple of gentle, quiet - but no less effective - chapters, in which Abercrombie surprised me once again. I now need to go find everything else he has written and, if you haven't already, you need to read this book.

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Profile Image for Robin Hobb.
Author 342 books97.5k followers
December 4, 2013
Just so no one thinks I'd review a book I hadn't read, yes, I got to read it already as an Advanced Reading Copy. I've enjoyed Abercrombie's books before but this one had an exceptionally tight focus on the protagonist that I really liked. And the story does not compromise anywhere. It's a coming of age story but that trite description does it no justice. No spoilers here, just a whole hearted recommendation.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 466 books402k followers
February 19, 2014
I’m a big fan of Abercrombie stark gritty fantasy books for grown-ups. His fiction pulls no punches and takes no prisoners (unless those prisoners are later tortured and executed). So I was curious to see how he would approach the world of young adult fiction in Half a King. The answer: brilliantly. Abercrombie creates a fantasy world that is somewhat neo-Viking, set around the Shattered Sea (the Baltic and North Atlantic?) ages after the elves (21st Century man?) shattered god (Blew everything up?) and disappeared. Our protagonist, Yarvi the youngest son of the king of Gettland, was born with a deformed hand in a world that values only able-bodied warriors. He is prepared to spend his life in the Ministry, as a sort of combination priest/physician/royal advisor, but his plans are upended when his father and older brother are both killed in an ambush. Suddenly Yarvi must be king and avenge his family, but very few Gettlanders are prepared to have ‘half a king’ – a weakling with only one good hand. Without giving any spoilers, I can tell you that Yarvi will have to endure many hardships and many adventures before he can find his true destiny. As in all Abercrombie’s books, friends turn out to be enemies, enemies turn out to be friends; the line between good and evil is murky indeed; and nothing goes quite as we expect. Abercrombie also throws in his trademark dark humor and got me to laugh even during some grim scenes. With eye-popping plot twists and rollicking good action, Half a King is definitely a full adventure. I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of the book. When it’s published in July, be sure to check it out!
Profile Image for Matt's Fantasy Book Reviews.
234 reviews3,037 followers
September 22, 2022
Check out my YouTube channel where I show my instant reactions upon finishing reading fantasy books.

Overall this is a good book, but cannot touch the quality of any of The First Law books

Half a King was a bit of a frustrating experience for me as a reader. I read this book because The First Law, which is the epic fantasy work that Joe Abercrombie is best known for, is the author of this book - and I happen to rate The First Law as one of my all-time favorite series. And while I know that this series is not as highly rated as The First Law, I figured I would give it a chance. But it's hard to read this book knowing what Joe Abercrombie is capable of, because this series just isn't nearly as good as his other series.

While reading I had wrongly assumed that he wrote this series first, and that he was still learning his craft as a writer. But he wrote this series in the middle of writing The First Law so it remains perplexing to me as a reader what happened here.

Don't get me wrong, this was a good book and an overall enjoyable reading experience - but it's hard to read it without comparing it to his other works.

Story: 3/5

The story at the beginning of this book is quite bad in my opinion. In a very non-Joe Abercrombie style, it's just incredibly predictable and vanilla. The "twist" that comes at the beginning of this book was obvious from about the 2nd page on, and the middle of the book wasn't much better than the beginning.

This is just a very basic revenge story that doesn't do anything that a thousand other books haven't done before. And while Abercrombie's writing quality is oozing was class (more on that below), it's hard to look at this story as anything other than flat.

It wasn't until the end of the book that things turned out quite good. The twists at the end had me completely shocked in a good way, and I absolutely loved the ending storyline in terms of how it wrapped things up.

World Building: 3/5

The world that has been crafted here was okay. This wasn't captivating in the slightest, but it was well explained and clearly outlined the set pieces and how they should look in your imagination. But again, it feels like the same world that a thousand other books have been set in and doesn't capture the imagination like the greats of the fantasy genre. It's just mediocre, which is so unlike Joe Abercrombie that it's almost shocking it's the same writer.

Fantasy Elements: 1/5

I don't rate the fantasy elements portion of this review as a 1 because they were done poorly, I rate them as a 1 because there simply wasn't any. It's technically a fantasy book because the world is made up, but besides that there is nothing fantasy related in this book at all. This is fine, and doesn't take away from the rest of the book in any way because this is the story Abercrombie was wanting to tell - but don't go into this expecting a magic system, or different exotic races of beings. They don't exist in this book.

Characters: 3/5

While I did feel that Prince Yarvi (the main character) is well written, there's nothing special about his personality that makes him stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately he doesn't go through my character growth, and we are left with virtually the exact same character at the end of this book as the beginning. And the side characters here are very pedestrian and hard to even differentiate from each other. You aren't going to get any incredibly well written characters, like a San dan Glokta.

Writing Style: 5/5

The writing style here is where this book really shines, and ultimately made the book a 4/5 for me. Joe Abercrombie is an absolutely incredible writer. The dialogue he writes is wonderful, and he can write about literally nothing happening and have me as the reader entranced with the book. He writes action sequences with a quality that almost nobody in the fantasy genre can match, and while I wished there was more action in this book - what was written about was wonderful.

Enjoyment: 4/5

My enjoyment in this book started at a 1, then slowly ticked up to be a 4 by the end of this book as I wrapped up the last few pages. It is a very frustrating experience hoping that this will be just as enjoyable as Abercrombie's past works, but still was a good book on it's own right that I would recommend to fans of his.

Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,258 reviews8,703 followers
December 29, 2017
12/29/17 - ON SALE for $2.99:


Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

It's not a secret that YA fantasy is second to only UF on my preferred genres list. It's also not a secret that YA fantasy has been falling flat for me recently. With the exception of Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas, the last 6 or 8 YA fantasies I've read have been disappointing at best, DNFs at worst.

It was getting to the point that I was doubting myself, thinking that I was in some kind of genre-specific book funk, and maybe I was being overly critical of all these books that everyone else seemed to love . . .

BUT then came Half a King by Joe Abercrombie.

Yes, then came Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, my first Abercrombie, incidentally, but definitely not my last, and faith in both myself and the genre was restored. Oh, I'm still a grouch, and there's a good chance that you might like the books that I've spurned, but Half a King exists on an entirely different playing field. The writing is beautifully compelling---not over-flowery or verbose. It states things simply, in a way that goes straight to that gooey, melty center where your FEELS live.

Yarvi is the second son of a king. The second son born with a deformity that makes him practically useless to his raiding, warmongering father. Yarvi only has one hand, you see. Hard to hold both a sword and a shield if you only have one hand, so Yarvi is half a man in his father's eyes . . . in the eyes of the rest of the warriors as well.

However, Yarmi is clever.

He's nearly ready to take his test to join the Ministry, an order of advisers meant to temper the wrath of kings. He's studied language and lore, medicine and philosophy. Once he passes his test and becomes Brother Yarvi, he will no longer be the deformed, second son of the king. The Ministry will be his family, it's members his new brothers and sisters.

BUT when Yarvi's father and brother are killed by treachery, the crown is thrust upon his head, forcing him into a life he's never wanted, and is ill-equipped to handle.

And MAN, it tears you up. Especially when you read things like, "They hardly looked dead."<------it HURTS.

His path is no longer the path he sought to follow, but Yarvi knows that what's at stake is bigger than his own desires, and he's determined to do the best he can.

But treachery is rarely as simple as it appears on the surface . . .

I don't really feel like I can do this book proper justice, but I'm going to try.

It's devilishly clever. There are enough clear hints to have you bouncing up and down in your chair, going, "Oh, oh!" along the way, and proudly declaring, "I knew it!" in the end, but vague, yet well-blending observations and incidents are also peppered throughout so that when other twists are revealed, you go, "Ooohhhh," in appreciation and instant understanding.

I've already said it was beautifully written, and it was. Abercrombie made me feel sad truths profoundly while simultaneously making me laugh. About the sad truths. And he did this frequently.

And the characters. I have always been a more character-driven than plot-driven reader, and in this book even the villains are tangibly real. When numero uno Bad Guy has his, "Out, damned spot!" moment, you almost feel sorry for him . . . Almost . . .

And who doesn't love a sword-wielding madman? Or a disgraced drunk of a female pirate who, "is too merciful. That has always been [her] fault"?

Or a clever boy facing impossible odds, who refuses to give up . . .

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie is the best new YA fantasy I've read this year. I recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy, YA or otherwise.
Profile Image for Val ⚓️ Shameless Handmaiden ⚓️.
1,827 reviews29k followers
August 3, 2019
4.5 Stars

This was my first Joe Abercrombie story and it definitely won’t be my last. In fact, I already have the next book in my hands.

It was slow to start for me, but such is always the case in first of a series books when there is solid world-building afoot.

I really enjoyed Abercrombie’s writing. It just seemed to flow so effortlessly. I would feel as though I had just sat down and then realize I had already blown through 50 pages. And I am a sucker for short chapters.

I guessed the first twist that came toward the end fairly soon after meeting a certain someone, but it was still super satisfying to watch it unfold when it was time for its unveiling. That second twist definitely got me though. Loved the ending and the way everything came together.

Excited to start book two.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
October 2, 2018

There I was, peacefully reading a decent, interesting YA fantasy, a sort of Viking-flavored coming-of-age story about the adventures of a physically weak, studious 15 year old prince with a crippled hand. Prince Yarvi briefly reigns over the kingdom of Gettland when his father and brother die, but he's betrayed and abruptly descends from the throne to abject slavery. Yarvi, determined to regain the throne and take revenge on those who betrayed him, has to overcome various obstacles (and people) blocking his path, convince others to join him in his quest, and make his way across some killer terrain back to his kingdom.


So far, so good. It was a pretty interesting read; it felt a little bit like some other books I've read, but I wasn't throwing it at the wall or picking lint out of my navel or asking my kids if I could help them with their homework.

Then things started happening. Unexpected things. Truly surprising things. And I was all




What? You think I'm going to spoil the surprise? Go read the book!

This isn't a magical fantasy, but is set either in an imaginary world or a distant past or future of our world.

Final thoughts: This is how you end a book without irritating cliffhangers, but still leave people wanting the sequel. This book is what The False Prince wants to be when it grows up. This is the first book in a trilogy but it works fine as a standalone read.

4.5 stars.
Profile Image for elena ❀.
256 reviews2,864 followers
April 8, 2021
From the many cages ranked around the walls they looked down on him now, the doves, and one great bronze-feathered eagle which must have brought a message from the High King in Skekenhouse. The one person in the lands around the Shattered Sea who had the right to make requests of Yarvi now. Yet here he sat against the dropping-speckled wall, picking at the nail on his shriveled hand, buried beneath a howe of demands he could never fulfill.

It's really hard for me to review this. The book was not confusing in any way, I enjoyed reading it all, but it's something I don't usually read. In fact, this is considered adult fantasy which is something I don't really read. Actually, never have read. I asked my good friend Petrik for recommendations. Half a King was wonderful, amazing, action-packed, intense, crazy, and filled with like 4 plot twists that I did not see coming which is the big reason for getting 4 stars. I didn't see them coming, unlike other readers, and I'm glad I didn't. I don't like predicting things in books and I don't plan to. It's best for me not to, unless the book is way too predictable, which ends up being a book I'll give a negative review on. Half a King couldn't have been better for me and I'm so glad I decided to start off with this one. Also, I'm in love with that cover? I mean, it's a sword and it looks shiny and there's more blades on it or something and I find it beautiful. Joe Abercrombie definitely did not disappoint with this one. I already went to the library to get the 2nd book because I am so excited to start it and see where Prince Yarvi, the main character, goes off on his journey.

Half a King, like the title says, is about half a king? Prince Yarvi was born with a half hand, or a crooked/crippled hand, who doesn't plan on taking the throne of his Father because of who he is. He wishes to be a mistress that he even studies everything and proves himself he's worthy of one to become one. As Yarvi is practicing for his upcoming test of becoming a mistress with someone very close with him, he finds out that his brother and father have been killed, murdered, and it is his turn to take the throne he never planned on taking. Not having a clue on how he will become the King his people need, unsure how he will be able to do things with that crippled hand of his, he swears and makes an oath to the Gods that he will reclaim that throne and take vengeance on his brother and father's killer. When something unexpected happens, Yarvi is later thrown into a world he didn't ever think about. Slavery. Brutality. Betrayal. Friendship. Unexpected turns are taken which lead to Yarvi becoming part of a group who later help him come out of his "immature side" and become the prince he was always made to be. From cruelty and chains to vengeance and friendships, Yarvi might just end where he started off.

So, this was intense for me. It had plot twists I didn't see coming and I don't read books with so many plot twists (yes I know there are more books with more plot twists but I'm just starting) which made everything so much better. The book is intense from the beginning and it's even got the betrayal since the beginning which later leads to revenge. Yarvi was a likable character and I even felt bad for him but then I was proud of him because he went from being a weak boy who wanted to be a mistress to a cunning man who is back home. He had to go through a lot that he had never been through and it was hard reading about him facing those struggles he never thought about. You can't give anything but pity to him because of who he is and what he thinks of himself. He doesn't believe in himself and neither does anyone else, not even his mother, and the only person who believed in him was his "2nd mother" who was also his mentor, the one who practiced with him for his mistress test. He takes trials he didn't want to take and later ends up as a slave. I don't read a lot of books that have a male character as the male lead, but Yarvi has changed the way I look at male characters. What I'm saying is I'm so used to reading about female characters wanting to become this badass heroine but manage to actually fail that I ignore the actual characters that manage to accomplish what they swore to do, and it's not a female character but instead they're male characters.

There's really no hint of romance in this. There are female characters, but there's really no romance, and it was a little weird for me to read something without romance because almost every book I read has some element of romance in it and it has to stop. There's a female character who ends up becoming one of Yarvi's friends. She's ruthless, but she has her fears. She's strong, fierce, but she's afraid. She's a little arrogant, but she doesn't let her close friends behind. Other than that, there's Yarvi's cousin who was not really part of the book since there are unexpected turns taken down and she's basically living in a ruling house while Yarvi is a slave, starving, suffering, finding ways to escape. Aside from the romance, there are the characters that make the story so much better. I will be honest: Since I'm not used to reading this genre, followed by names I'm not used to, I had trouble pronouncing names.

We have Sumael who was by far, my favorite aside from Yarvi. She was the badass female character I mentioned above and you can't do anything but love her. You can't not love her. She was fierce but she was also scared like I said, and her loyalty to Yarvi and the rest of the group is just really cute. Not in a romantic way, but in a friendly way. She wished to not help Yarvi because he was the weakling who got pity, but she didn't leave him behind and didn't plan to. I felt bad for the beginning of the book because I had trouble pronouncing her name and kept calling her 'Samuel' instead of 'Sumael' which was awful but even though I kept mispronouncing her name, I tried my best to call her Sumael in any way that was not Samuel. Then we have Jaud, Rulf, and Ankran who all grew on me. I didn't really like them, any, because of how they treated Yarvi, but then it was understandable and their personalities were understandable. They were slaves after all and had been in that ship of the captain for a longer time than Yarvi. They became great allies, companions, friends, of Yarvi and they lived up to his expectations. He managed to fail when it came to first impressions but later he managed to grow on them and later they all helped each other in any ways they were able to until they couldn't. Lastly, we have Nothing. I won't say why his name is Nothing but he was the one who added humor and another unexpected turn to the book. You can't help but love his attitude and the way he acts around the rest of the group.

One of my favorite things about this book was the writing. Some may say it was the worst thing of the book, but it was my favorite. The author manages to write the book as if it was a poem, which is weird. There are so many sentences that were just, sentences, but he managed to make them sound similar, alike, as if there was a rhyme connected. When a sentence started, a reader can be managed to read the ending of that sentence as if he or she were reading a poem. Some of the writing was part of the reason I kept reading, another was obviously the action in the book. Joe is indeed a great writer and I'm really excited to see what else he has written, including the other 2 books of this trilogy to see where Yarvi is going, what he plans on doing, how he goes off on his journey, the new people he meets, the new friendships he makes, and maybe more plot twists and betrayals and more revenge? Hopefully.

It wasn't very dark, in my opinion, but I won't say it wasn't. Joe is able to grip the attention of the reader and keep the reader going because all they want to do is find out what is going to happen next and how. First novel read by Joe but definitely not my last. His writing is gripping, beautiful, compelling.

There are no relatabe characters in this, mostly because it's a fantasy and I can never really relate to a character in a fantasy novel, but characters to manage to grab your attention and keep you reading about them and the rest because they're in a Shattered Sea, starving, being forced to do things for their captain or she will whip them, torture them, hit them, and maybe even kill them, for what they have not done. Yarvi managed to survive, and I was so happy to know he was able to be a character who fits in the "coming of age" genre. He became a man, maybe not a prince, but he became a man who is able to fight with a crippled hand. He was able to prove others and himself and I was happy of that, it's like I was proud. I was. There's really no world-building in this and I was happy with that since they aren't my favorite thing especially because a lot of authors manage to fail on writing it, but there is, without a doubt, some major and great character development.

I'm really excited to read the other book which I am sure to start very soon and I'm also excited to read Joe's other works. I'm just really excited to read more fantasy like this in general. This can be categorized as adult fantasy, and it is with the violence and blood spatters, the betrayals and vengeance, the friendships made and hearts cracked, but it can also be read as a YA novel. What I mean is that it isn't high fantasy, not even that much of epic fantasy. Don't get me wrong, it's an epic fantasy story, but it doesn't have those "epic fantasy" elements you have probably seen in actual epic fantasy books. Yarvi starts off as a boy and becomes someone he didn't think he would become. He grows up. He survives. There are YA fantasy books that can have a similar story to this one, hero or heroine, but then is so different. The story is easy to follow, the book is fast-paced, the plot is also a little original but not as original as it sounds. It has humour, it has action. It's got the side characters that you will most likely end up loving but then there's also the "side characters" you'll most likely end up hating.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,921 reviews10.6k followers
April 23, 2014
When his father and brother are killed, half-handed Yavri finds himself king. His reign is woefully short as he is betrayed and left for dead. After being rescued and sold into slavery, he plots his revenge...

I got this from Netgalley.

After the unbridled awesomeness of The First Law and its spinoffs, I was curious to see if Joe Abercrombie could tell a story set in another world. Turns out he can.

While Half a King is marketed as Young Adult (or Adults That Don't Enjoy Reading About Sex and/or Violence as Much as I Do, as I think of it these days), it's pretty grim at times. Yavri's life isn't easy and at no point did I feel like Yavri was working with a net, unlike a lot of YA protagonists. The story is low magic fantasy, possibly in our own world's far future. Descriptions are vague but I thought I caught references to radiation poisoning and concrete.

Half a King is a coming of age/hero's journey tale featuring Yavri, a prince with a withered hand. He's betrayed, swears vengeance, and goes about getting that vengeance he lusts for. The crew of misfits he assembles along the way help mold him into the man he needs to be to confront his uncle and take back the Black Chair. I loved those damn misfits, particularly Sumael and The Man Called Nothing, whom I hoped against hope was Logen Ninefingers despite this book not taking place in the First Law world. As with a lot of Abercrombie's supporting villains, Shadikshirram, wasn't all that vile and could have been a lead character under other circumstances.

The ending was full of surprises. There were revelations, deaths, and some surprising turns events. Abercrombie definitely proved to me that he wasn't a one trick pony with this one. Four out of five stars.
Profile Image for Chantal .
337 reviews825 followers
February 10, 2017
The fool strikes. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.

Half a King is what I would call a very traditional fantasy. It’s about kings and queens, princes and the fight for the throne, wars and conspiracies. It is set in a world that resembles medieval Europe/the Viking era and in many ways it isn’t a very original story.


It is utterly fantastic.
This book really demonstrates what a great writer Joe Abercrombie is, that he was able to take something so traditional and make into something special. This novel is so well crafted and honestly brilliant.


Prince Yarvi is the second son of the King of Gettland and is studying to become a Minister. But when his father and older brother are unexpectedly killed, Yarvi suddenly finds himself to be the rightful heir of the Black Chair – a position he doesn’t actually want. Born with only one good hand, Yarvi has to face the bitter skepticism of his people and family who don’t believe a cripple can be a real king.

Knowing anything more would be a spoiler so I’ll stop here!

Although it may sound like it, Half a King is not just another fantasy book. You think you know where the story is going and what’s going to happen next and then, BANG, PLOT TWIST! I didn’t see any of the twists coming and by the end my mind was blown. When I finished (at 1am) I just sat on my bed for a few moments staring at the wall, digesting all that had happened. It was so awesome!

The entire novel is very fast-paced and action-packed. I actually read the second half in one sitting (which is basically unheard of for me) because I was so addicted and couldn’t put it down. I adore a good underdog story and this is one of the best I have ever come across. The story goes places you wouldn’t have expected and it turns out to be so much more than you thought possible in the beginning.

There was only the tiniest hint of a romance in this book, which was great because anything more would have been unnecessary to the story.

Also, the ending was freaking phenomenal! Throughout the book I kept wondering how on earth Joe Abercrombie would be able to wrap this book up because it seemed like there was no good solution. I was wrong. Having finished, I am left feeling completely satisfied while still highly anticipating the next installment.


Personally, I thought the characters were the novel’s strongest aspect. Yarvi has to be one of my favorite male leads of all time. He is very weak in the physical sense but makes more than up for it with his clever and cunning mind. He is a wonderfully complex and realistic character who makes many mistakes yet always remains likeable and root-worthy. Some of his actions are quite despicable but the reader is able to empathize with him and all his choices were understandable. Maybe best of all, was how Yarvi faced impossible odds but refused to give up. He decides to fight, no matter what it takes. Additionally, the character development he went through was amazing. Seeing him transform from a boy with no self-worth to what he became in the end was wonderful. Plus, he has tons of amazing lines:
When you're in hell, only a devil can point the way out.

You may need two hands to fight someone, but only one to stab them in the back.

Then there are the side characters, which were just as fantastic. I loved all of them. They were well developed and interesting and I constantly wanted to find out more about them. We have Jaud and Rulf who impressed me with their kind hearts and fierce loyalty; Ankran, who turned out to be so much more than I originally expected; Sumael, just an overall badass female character. And then we have Nothing, who I can pretty much guarantee you are going to love. He’s kind of crazy and made me laugh many times even in the most serious of situations.

I also want to applaud the author for creating such strong and fierce female characters. I loved how everybody had multiple layers to them including the villains. Nobody in this story was black and white; they all have their own private agendas which makes the novel that much more interesting.
"If life has taught me one thing, it's that there are no villains. Only people, doing their best."

I adored the character dynamic and the underlying theme of friendship and loyalty this brought to the table.


There wasn’t a lot of worldbuilding in this first novel but what was there had me very intrigued. The author provides enough details to make the setting come to life without ever dumping us with unnecessary information. You can see that the world is quite expansive and that there is still a lot to discover. I desperately want to find out more about Yarvi’s world, particularly the gods and the function of the Ministry. So much to learn!

Writing and atmosphere:

Half a King is compellingly written, poetic while not being overly flowery. Joe Abercrombie really knows how to create atmosphere: This book was so gritty and dark, yet never seemed bleak. I was completely sucked into the story and the violent setting made me truly frightened for the characters.

The author is also a master of dialogue. The banter between the characters was witty and realistic and just great overall. So much dark humor!


I highly recommend this novel if you like fantasy. It is full of intriguing characters, great dialogue and has twists and turns around every corner. As for me, I can’t wait to pick up the next book by Joe Abercrombie!

Profile Image for Faye, la Patata.
492 reviews2,115 followers
July 25, 2014







*eyes shift to father*

*eyes shift to mother*

*eyes shift to brothers*

*eyes shift to grandmother*

Curious..... very curious indeed....

*eyes shift to dog*

Okay, you're cool, dog. I doubt you even know what I'm talking about.


This. Book. Is. AWESOME.

This. Book. Is. INTELLIGENT.

This. Book. Is. DEVASTATING.

This. Book. blowseveryotheryafantasybooksoutofthewaterbecausetheyaremediocre.

Yes. I say it. THEY'RE MEDIOCRE. Compared to this baby.

Complex. Dark. Bittersweet. Gritty. Merciless.

Definitely no-nonsense. No fucking candy romance. No mary sues. No gary sues. No cop outs. No deus ex machina. All human affairs in its dark glory.

AKA: YA Fantasy at its very finest <3 <3 <3


Profile Image for Robin (Bridge Four).
1,607 reviews1,481 followers
September 30, 2017
on sale 9/30/17 at amazon for $2.99

Just as good the second time through. Still a 4.5 star read.

4.5 Stars

This is my very first Joe Ambercrombie book and as an avid high fantasy reader I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled onto him before. He does a great job at blending a great world with fantastic characters and story without getting caught up in the drudgery of over explaining everything. After finishing this I was sure of three things, I will anxiously await the next installment of this series, I will read anything else Joe Ambercrombie has written and Nothing was surprisingly one of my favorite secondary characters in a fantasy.

“Pick you enemies more carefully than your friends,” Nothing was muttering at the flames. “They will be with you longer.”

In a world where men make war and you are only as good as your use with a weapon Yarvi is useless. He has a deformed hand and can’t hold a shield, can’t protect the men at his side and his father has reminded him of all his failures as a man all of his life. That’s fine Yarvi has avoided them all and lost himself in books and learning, until the fates intervened and both his father and brother are slaughtered making him the king. But it isn’t that easy and Yarvi has a lot to learn about what it really takes to be a man and a king, after being betrayed and tossed into slavery he has to find a way back to his kingdom to take back the throne he didn’t want until it was taken away from him.

Once, after his father had hit him in a rage, Yarvi’s mother had found him crying. The fool strikes, she had said, The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns.
Then strikes.

Yarvi is the smart hero, it isn’t all about battles and fighting. It is about reacting wisely and waiting for the perfect moment to turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Sometimes words will get you more than a sword and I love those moments in books.

The story and journey are amazing. The band of unlikely friends that Yarvi finds and the comradery he has with them is fantastic. I will not give away the journey they take and the unexpected twists along the way. I will say that this had one of the best reveals in a fantasy novel that I’ve read this year. I was shocked and amazed when it happened and might have punched my fist in the air because I was that happy to be totally surprised.

 photo shocked_zpsf83abdc1.gif

As a female fantasy reader sometimes I get a little miffed about the one dimensional aspect that a lot of writers give to their female characters. They are damsels in distress, overly emotional or serve only as a love interest. I’m so happy that all of the female characters in this are fierce in one way or another; The Queen manages the finances of the country better than any man before her. Samael a slave girl on the ship is the best navigator and friend Yarvi could have. Shadikshirram the slave ship captain was an admiral of a fleet during war and while she is a monster of a woman she is complex, strong and a worthy opponent.

This is a perfect blend of a smart story with enough action and fight scenes to keep things really interesting without overdoing it and losing the reader in similar sequences. There is a very minor hint of romance to it as well enough to keep the girly girl in me contented.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Del Ray for an ARC of this book for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
March 9, 2016
I remember how excited I was when this book came out. When it came through the letter box, I practically screamed like a little girl because the cover looked that awesome. I’d just read the First Law Trilogy and was eager to see what this would be like. When I began reading I was so shocked at the complete change in style, complexity and quality. Don’t get me wrong, I do like this book, but it was nowhere near as accomplished as his previous novels.

Predictable in the beginning


I’m still quite surprised how different these books are to what he previously wrote. They feel simple and quite predictable. This plot is fast paced and quite exciting, though the initial change in fortune for Prince Yarvi was so obviously going to happen. The treachery that came was blatantly going to occur, yet everyone seemed completely unaware. This is inconsistent, to an extent, because in this world this sort of thing happens every week. It’s nothing new, and should always be expected. So when a man who is characterised as being intelligent is duped so easily, it just feels a little wrong especially when the reader can spot it a mile off.

“If life has taught me one thing, it’s that there are no villains. Only people, doing their best.”

That being said though, Prince Yarvi is well written. Joe Abercrombie has a unique way of getting into the head of his characters and their psychology. Their thoughts feel real and their development is worked upon; it is no simple process. Indeed, Prince Yarvi develops through the tale gradually. He goes from a somewhat weak, yet intelligent, youngster without any mettle whatsoever into a hardened force. He becomes cunning and ruthless, but more importantly, in this world, he becomes a pragmatist. Firstly, though, he must endure slavery, being hunted and a battle he is doesn’t belong in. This really is a coming of age novel for Prince Yarvi.

It feels quite average, except for Nothing

Most of the side characters didn’t really stand out at. Some of them just weren’t interesting and were completely forgettable. However, one redeemed the bunch. The character Nothing was a complete mystery, and the revelation of who he was saved the book for me. It shocked me entirely, and actually gave me a reason to carry on reading this series. I think I’d have preferred this book a little more had there been a variety in the point of view characters; it would have made the story more dynamic and interesting.

“What is the world coming to when an honest man cannot burn corpses without suspicion?" asked Notning.”

Indeed, unlike other books, by the author, this is told from the perspective of just one character: Yarvi. On one hand, it’s was rewarding to see Yarvi grow, but on the other, he’s a little vanilla. I want to see the genius of San Dan Glokta and the wisdom of Ninefingers. Ok, I understand that the author has moved on and created a new, fresh, series and I like it, but I would like to read the series from the point of view of more smack in the mouth characters, at least in part. Perhaps Yarvi will be more resolute and enigmatic as time goes on. This series, at this point, desperately needs a stronger protagonist; this is a warrior’s world; it needs a warrior to tell the story.

This book is not as good as the First Law Trilogy or Best Served Cold, but it is better than Red Country and Heroes so, for me, sets the middle ground for the author. That may sound critical, though it must be noted that the middle ground for an Abercrombie book is still a worthy read.

The Shattered Sea
1.Half a King- An enjoyable three stars
2.Half the World- A fair three stars
3.Half a War- A good warmongering 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,574 reviews5,904 followers
April 24, 2014
It's hard to describe the feelings of reading this book. It starts off with Yarvi training to be a minister. As luck with have it he ends up being king after his father and brother are killed. Yarvi is young and born with only one good hand so of course he is teased and tormented.
I hate to give away any of the story because it's an adventure I think you should take without any foresight into it.
I'm so glad I started reading fantasy or I would have missed this gem. I will be reading more from Joe Abercrombie! FANGIRLING!!!

Many thanks to Netgalley and Del Ray for an ARC of this book for an honest review.
Profile Image for Maria Clara.
993 reviews505 followers
February 5, 2017
Es la primera vez que le abro las puertas de mi casa a Abercrombie y ya lo he adoptado! Es más, estoy deseandito saber cómo continua esta trilogía...
Profile Image for Natalie Monroe.
592 reviews3,540 followers
November 15, 2015
4.5 stars

"The fool strikes," she had said. "The wise man smiles, watches, and learns.

Then strikes."

Sorry if this review contains a lot of incoherent gushing and fangirling. I just sent my brain to her room for not making me read this sooner.

Come to think of it, all of you deserve to be there, too. You know who you are, my so-called friends with your four-star, five-star reviews. Why didn't you tell me to read this sooner??? All of you, room.

Yarvi is about to take his minister's test when news comes of his father's and brother's death. Suddenly he's the new king of a country he never expected—or wanted—to rule.

Up until then, I was pretty happy. Reluctant king with a withered, atrophied hand? Awesome world-building and a Cersei-like mom? Sign me up for this shit.

Then plot twist! He's betrayed by someone close to him and forced into slavery.

Ladies and gentlemen, I raged when that happened. I was so looking forward to Tyrion Yarvi using his wits to navigate the courts and prove to naysayers that a disabled king who can't hold a sword is no less awesome.

I continued, rather bitterly, mentally docking a star in my mind for not fulfilling my Game of Thrones fantasy. But then, a miracle happened. I found myself enjoying this new turn of events. I "Yes!"ed when Yarvi got one over an enemy. I gasped when his carefully constructed plan for escape smashed to pieces. I swore when Nothing revealed his true identity. And I finished, slightly punch-drunk, with a burning desire to hunt down Half The World.

The plot twists are amazing. Abercombie keeps you on your fucking feet. There's no deux ex machina, no sudden coincidences. Permit me to use A Feast for Crows quote: ""We princes make our careful plans and the gods smash them all awry." Like life, nothing in Yarvi's life goes according to plan. Half A King didn't go the path I anticipated and I finished, wholly satisfied with the ending and giddy for more.

While GRRM slowly, slowly works on The Winds of Winter, fantasy fans can whet their appetite with Half A King. The new halfman is here.

My review of Half the World
My review of Half A War
Profile Image for Gavin.
862 reviews392 followers
June 30, 2017
This was an OK YA fantasy. The story was a bit predictable but it did have a mix of action and intrigue, and a few twists and turns that kept the pages turning.

Yarvi, unfavoured second son (one with a frowned upon crippled hand), was never supposed to be king but had to step into the role after his father and brother were murdered by a rival king under the banner of a peace meeting. Yarvi swears vengeance but soon finds he has as many enemies in his own court as he has in rival kingdoms!

I was not a giant fan of the world building. We got a pseudo-Viking setting and a zero magic. I'm OK with the lack of magic but have never been a big fan of Viking based fantasy. The Shattered Sea region is made up of a number of lesser kingdoms that are loosely subjugated to a high king. I quite liked that aspect of the story though I have seen it executed better in a number of other fantasy series.

I was not a giant fan of Abercrombie's writing style but it was passable enough to keep me mildly engaged for the greater part of the story. Some of the one liners were hackneyed and clichéd but that was only a mild annoyance and a few did bring a faint smile rather than the eye-roll that most garnered.

The story was mildly entertaining. The start was pretty dull but once the intrigue and betrayal started I found myself caught up in the story and rooting for Yarvi to survive. The whole mid phase of the story was entertaining but the ending disappointing in a whole lot of ways. I liked the middle phase of the story well enough that I'm not going to let the boring start of the awful ending taint my overall rating of the story. Though I have to admit that I did find the ending super anticlimactic and very unsatisfying. It has been a while since an ending has delivered me so little satisfaction.

While reading Half a King I could not help but compare it with Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns. They two books are very similar. There are a lot of similarities in terms of world building and story premise. I'd likely have liked this better if I'd not read Prince of Thorns first as Half a King is a pale imitation by comparison.

The other flaw that really annoyed me was that Abercrombie gave me no reason to really cheer while reading this one. There was no great moments of triumph or positivity to engage my emotions. There were a few sad and depressing moments that engaged me emotionally but that only helped hammer home the point that this was a book that lacked the correct balance to be a truly great story.

Since Yarvi was the only POV character he was the only one I formed any attachment to. The secondary characters were mostly just throwaway. I'm writing this review about 12 hours after finishing the book and while I have some memories of the secondary characters I've already managed to forget all their names! I liked Yarvi well enough but was disappointed in his story arc on the whole and not impressed that he ended up being such a passive lead character. Another irritating thing was being repeatedly told Yarvi was intelligent then having him botch most of his plans and fail to spot the obvious plot twists that the reader figured out easily!

All in all I thought this was an OK story that was held back by a few annoying flaws. On the plus side this was definitely a lot better than the awful Abercrombie novellas I read in the Dangerous Women and Rogues anthologies.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

Audio Note: Ben Eliot did an OK job with the audio. He was passable without being anything special.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews827 followers
October 28, 2017
I will tell you one thing about this book. No, actually, I will tell you one word. No, in fact, I will tell you Nothing. Nothing!!! 

This is my second Joe Abercrombie book, and after the slight disappointment of Best Served Cold, it took me a year to come back to him. Don’t get me wrong, it had all tell-tale signs of a great author, it was just inconsistent in its grim darkness vomiting rainbows at the end. Thus, I approached Half a King wary and with my snark unsheathed. Needlessly. The adventures of Yarvi prove to be one hell of an entertainment.

The Yarvi we meet is trained to become a Minister, political advisor to the mighty of this world. The Ministry, a precarious mix of coaching and psychoanalysis, works like a religious order with a grand matriarch on the top and it mission is paving the way for Father Peace.

“Ministers must find the lesser evil and weight the greater good.”

Yarvi spends his time apologising, weeping and feeling sorry for himself just about to the point when you want to strangle him. He feels weak and scorned by those around him, rejected by his father, a puppet to the wishes of his mother and his uncle. But his greatest problem is the feeling of powerlessness and worthlessness; there is, of course, a lot in him – knowledge, cunning wit, empathy – he simply does not see them as assets in the world of steel swords, brute violence and men judged by their physical capabilities.

It starts ordinarily enough: Yarvi, a young forgotten prince is elevated to kinghood after his father and brother are killed in an ambush. Soon, the same enemy tries to dispose of our hero, but, by a stroke of luck, Yarvi escapes with his life only to find himself sold as a slave. Once Yarvi’s (mis)fortune throws him to the deepest pits of humanity, his slow transformation and his strenuous journey of vengeance and reckoning begins. Yarvi finds that wit is sharper than steel, that is can cut deeper, and in a more sustainable way. He finds himself tired of being a coward. He finds companions to share with, he finds friends to trust. He finds a family to belong.

“’My name isn’t Yorv, it’s Yarvi. And I am the rightful King of Gettland.’
Ankran softly cleared his throat. ‘That would explain your shitty cooking.’”

Now, Ankran, is also one of my favourite protagonists for he shows how masterfully Abercrombie can craft his tales. Majority of the authors lack the talent to offer a character complex enough to mix the light and the shadow, the good and the bad in a convincing way. We have villains who are evil because the author said so but in reality a pathetic case of nothing but a bad case of writing design (Queen of the Tearling) or so frightening and pathological in their wrongdoings that they become caricatures you just pity to hate. Normally, there is nothing to marvel upon, just black heart, black soul and black deed. Rarely do we have someone who is a mix of good intentions and catastrophic results, or noble rationale and ignoble means. A protagonist whom you hate with all your heart, whose despicable actions make you cringe, someone for whom you root to die in an unpleasant burst of justice but who, as the tale progresses, is able to show you not only that they chose the way they deemed the best among many choices, no but also redeem themselves so you weep for them, is an endangered species indeed (Gemina! ).

Without a doubt, Abercrombie shows his talent off with the worldbuilding and the wonderful array of secondary and tertiary characters, made alive sometimes only with one sentence (“No joke was funny, no child lovable, no woman beautiful enough to bend those iron lips”), sometimes with careful tilt in the narrative, like when it comes to Ebdel Aric Shadikshirram, the captain of South Wind, whose greatest weaknesses are mercy, charity, and kindness. Oh, and wine.

And then, of course, there is Nothing ** you can skip the fangirling section below if you are not prone to crushes on homicidal maniacs **

When we meet Nothing he flickers on the pages as a faint memory of a man.

“Nothing smiled. A broken smile full of broken teeth and peaking of a broken mind.”

But as the events progress, Nothing becomes an indispensable addendum the little company, a hand of Mother War supplementing the withered stump of Yarvi’s limb with his fighting skills. Nothing is deadly with a blade (any kind of blade, mind you, so be careful with this butter knife), and thoroughly simple in his life creed (there are two commandments: people are not to be trusted and trust the steel for it is an answer to all your woes). With hungry smile and polished sword, both unsheathed, he delivers endless entertainment throughout the pages of Half a King.

“’What do you trust?’ asked Yarvi.
Nothing held up his sword, and did not so much smile as show broken teeth. ‘Only this.’”

Nothing turns out to be one of the most hysterical homicidal maniacs in YA fantasy.

“…faces were back in the drawn and worried shapes which had become so wearyingly familiar. Apart from Nothing, of course, who looked precisely as mad as he always did.”

His life is simple and consists of simple pleasures

“’And they will come ashore, tired and wet and foolish, just as we have, and we will fall upon them.’
‘Fall upon them?’, said Yarvi.
‘We six?’ asked Ankran.
‘Against their twenty?’ muttered Jaud.
‘With a one-handed boy, and a woman and a storekeeper among us?’ said Rulf.
‘Exactly!’ Nothing smiled wider. “you think just as I do.’”

and simple pastimes

“The archer raised his brows at the pyre. ’Travellers burning corpses?’
‘What is the world coming to when an honest man cannot burn corpses without suspicion?’ asked Nothing.”

even if he seems to be limited in other departments

“If you have a plan, hissed Sumael from the corner of her mouth, ‘now would be the time.’
‘I have a plan,’ said Nothing.
Does it involve a sword? Asked Jaud.
A pause. “All my plans do.’
‘Do you have a sword?’
Another. “No.’”

** the fangirling section concludes with compliments to Sister Nastassja, a connoisseur of homicidal maniacs**

Finally, it needs to be said, Joe Abercrombie, that in the de Vries annals you will go down as a man able to give me two plot twists I didn’t see coming. There are three in the book, and while the first one is easy to divine (in fact, it is revealed in the blurb), to say that the other two took me by surprise, would be an understatement. And both were ingenious, both in terms how to conclude a journey of self-discovery, and how to take story-telling to another level of deviousness. I am talking to you, seasoned readers, trained in suspecting betrayals and double-crossings and seeing right through the schemes of those writers naïve enough to think they can surprise you. Abercrombie is your man. He can deliver. Give him half a chance.

Also in the series:

2. Half the World
3. Half a War
Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,043 followers
July 29, 2015
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths Reviews

Since starting to read fantasy again several years ago, there have been a few authors whose names have been constantly whispered in my ear as the “it” writers to try: Peter V. Brett, Brent Weeks, Mark Lawrence, and especially Joe Abercrombie. From all the gushing, I was led to believe that reading a novel penned by Lord Grimdark (as Mr. Abercrombie is called) would not only enthrall me in his fantasy spell but leave me a meth-like addict begging for more. Well, finally, I’ve given him a try, and all I can say is that Half a King wasn’t as great as I anticipated it being (because we all know nothing is ever as good as the hype surrounding it), though it was still a very entertaining read – just not necessarily for me.

Why do I say that? Well, while I’m not a grimdark aficionado, I have read several of those types of novels during my fantasy renaissance, enjoying most of them: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence being my personal favorite and the standard that I judge all other grimdark against. But relative to my other forays into the grim, Half a King did not have the shock, grit or gore of my favorites. In fact, there were lots of times it read eerily like a YA novel, but it really wasn’t a true YA novel either, because for every moment where the main character would be lovesick, naive or voice his teenage angst there would be another where he was acting like a very seasoned and mature grimdark hero. So I suppose, Half a King is not really either grimdark or YA but rather a genre blending work which I hereby dub GRIMWHINE!

Now, there is nothing wrong with Mr. Abercrombie creating grimwhine. It is obviously a whole new genre, and creative people always like to push the boundaries in whatever they are doing at the moment. Take some of my friends, for example, they personally enjoy grilling, even though they are not “chefs” by any definition of the word, and when they grill, they will occasionally create new recipes to wow their friends and family. Sometimes, they are lucky and get it right, and everyone pats them on the back, telling them how great they are. Other times, they aren’t so fortunate, and while no one hates their new dish, no one loves it either. The later situation is how I view grimwhine as served up to me in Half a King.

The story itself focuses on Yarvi, the second son of King Uthrik and Queen Laithlin of Gettland, who is born into a Viking-like world where physical strength and honor in battle define manhood. Unfortunately, for our youth, he can never live up to this societal role, because he was cursed with a deformed hand that is almost useless.

Growing up as the kingdom’s one handed prince, Yarvi views himself as inadequate and an embarrassment; feelings that are only reinforced by his father’s very open disgust for him. Whenever he can, he slips away to the secret tunnels in the castle, attempting to hide from his tormentors and an older brother whose good-natured teasing cuts him like a knife. But now, all the years of crying in the dark are over for Yarvi, because he has found his calling in life. No more weapons practice or hiding his deformity from view. No, our young prince is training to be a minister, taught by Mother Gundring herself, and she has recognized that while Yarvi might not have the physical strength to be a great king, he has the quickness of mind, the empathy, and the silver-tongue to someday become Father Yarvi, advisor to kings.

But Yarvi’s happiness does not last, as life in this violent and brutal land intervenes. During a raging storm, his Uncle Odem arrives to break the news to him: A horrible act of treachery has been executed by King Grom-gil-Grom of the Vanstermen, and both his father and his older brother lie dead of their wounds. Now, Yarvi is King of Gettland!

From this beginning, Mr. Abercrombie weaves a story of Yarvi’s ascent to the Black Chair of kingship, the political betrayals that inevitably follow, and his descent into the depths of misfortune where he has to struggle to just survive. Along the way, several interesting and compelling characters enter our one-handed Prince’s life, poking and prodding him along his way to inner enlightenment. There are murders, grand fights, personal revelations, and twists and turns in the plot — even two surprise endings (Yeah, you read that correctly), and during it all, a reader is pulled along on a journey that cannot be called anything other than entertaining. But even the best novels have problems, and Half a King is no different. Let me explain my personal issues with it.

The first problem was that there wasn’t any suspense. In a tale full of manipulations, murdering schemes and revenge, you expect the revelations of “who did what” to be the exciting part of the narrative, but here none of the villains or heroes were surprising in the least. The first “betrayer” of Yarvi was readily apparent from the outset of the story; the young prince’s future friends and saviors were easily recognized; the identity of the big surprise “hero” was so thoroughly foreshadowed that I would have been disappointed if it had not been he; and even the climactic ending did nothing but unveil a villain who looked suspicious from the beginning of the tale. These things plus the fact that the latter two revelations were deus ex machina endings definitely made me sigh a bit and set the book aside until I stopped shaking my head at the very tidy and convenient conclusion Mr. Abercrombie penned.

The second problem with Half a King was that it had no fantasy elements in it. Sure, we have passages here or there mentioning ancient Elves who destroyed the world and split apart the One God, but other than seeing a few of their relics and ruins, they have no part in the story, and they are the only thing fantastical about it. Without these allusions to the past, there is no magic in this novel: nothing to keep it from being a tale about a one-handed Viking prince back in the Middle Ages. In fact, you can just change the names of Gettlanders to Scylding, add a few other Danish kingdom names, and the novel is now about real history, not fantasy. (And before anyone mentions it, I know what George R.R. Martin is writing about in Song of Ice and Fire, but would anyone like to list all the fantastical elements he has integrated into his fantasy version of the War of the Roses?) So while it is perfectly fine for Mr. Abercrombie to write a Viking-esque story, Half a King could just as easily been historical fiction as fantasy.

In a summation, this was a decent coming-of-age story that combined elements of grimdark and YA to create what I like to call “grimwhine.” It was fast-paced, well written, and very easy to read in no time at all. The continual ups-and-downs of Yarvi’s existence never became dull or bogged down in angst or romance like many YA adventures and neither did the blood, gore, and pessimism of grimdark totally overshadow the inherent optimism of a youth trying to find his place in the world. Truthfully, Mr. Abercrombie did a great job of balancing the two tones. However, the balancing act cost Half a King something, and it was that the testosterone rush of blood-drenched grimdark and the heart-wracking angst of great YA were both missing, which doesn’t bode well for grimwhine’s appeal – at least to me.

I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Profile Image for Conor.
148 reviews314 followers
March 17, 2015
3.75 stars.

With his latest effort Abercrombie breaks the mould he has set for himself with his hugely successful series of 'grimdarks' and tries his hand at YA. While this book lacks the depth and complexity of his previous work this is still a fast-paced, enjoyable read filled with betrayal, hardship and adventure and fleshed out with well-written characters.

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

Yarvi is 'half a man', a crippled prince scorned for his lack of martial prowess. But when his brother and father are murdered he is forced to take the throne and all of the responsibilities and dangers that come with it. As he struggles to earn his place he is cruelly betrayed and sold into slavery, beginning a quest for revenge filled with hardship, dangers and unexpected friendship.

From the twisted, devious mind that brought you such characters as Sand Dan Glokta and Logen Ninefingers comes a tale of courage, redemption and friendship. This is a YA book but undoubtedly a YA book written by the master of grimdark. While fans of Abercrombie's previous work may be somewhat disappointed by the lighter tone, by any other measurement this is not a light read. YA tag aside the themes of revenge, violence and betrayal explored in this book could easily fit in to an adult fantasy book. The ending of this book is especially bleak with an unexpected betrayal, the death of a beloved character and the painful resolution to Yarvi's love triangle. While obviously adjusted for the genre, this is still an ending in keeping with the tone of Abercrombie's darker work that drives home the point that this is a brutal world filled with flawed characters.

“Shall I spin a tale for you?”
“What manner of tale, Brother Yarvi?”
“A tale of blood and deceit, of money and murder, of treachery and power.”
Mother Gundring laughed, and took another sip from her cup. “The only sort I enjoy. Has it elves in it? Dragons? Trolls?”
Yarvi shook his head. “People can do all the evil we’ll need.”

As is typical of Abercrombie's work the characters, rather than the plot, drive this story. Yarvi was a likeable, funny hero who it was easy to empathise with and root for on his quest for justice. His mother Laithlin was convincingly written as a wise and powerful queen while her complicated relationship with Yarvi was brilliantly handled. Mother Gundring was a warm, amusing character whose interactions with Yarvi were funny and interesting. Captain Shadikshirram (say it 3 times fast) was a disappointingly clichéd character who seemed an imitation of Cosca from Abercrombie's previous books. The members of Yarvi's group were all likeable and well-written. Ankran, The storekeeper stealing to provide for his family. Rulf, the tough, dependable, old warrior. Sumael, the wise-cracking navigator. Jaud, the baker with the heart of a hero. And ‘Nothing’, the deadly, merciless slave with a bloody past and mysterious ambitions who dominated all of the scenes he was in.

“Talk only makes problems, Steel is always the answer.”

The plot of this book was straightforward and predictable but also enjoyable. The concept of revenge was explored in a very simplistic manner, especially compared to Abercrombie's Best Served Cold. While the majority of this book's plot is made up of commonly seen and easily predictable storylines (young prince unexpectedly comes to power, protagonist sold into slavery, trek through the wilderness), these storylines are still well-written, fast-paced and filled with great characters. Abercrombie's biggest weakness, worldbuilding, is also evident in this book. The setting is a generic Viking world, with some uninteresting religious struggles in the background and names I couldn't be bothered to keep track of (the only one I remember is 'Gettland'... I just don't remember where or what it was) The only interesting point in the world building was the allusions to the 'elves' a technologically advanced race who disappeared long ago. I'm hoping this point will be explored more in the future books.

This was a fun, fast paced story filled interesting characters. While long-time fans of Abercrombie might be disappointed by the lighter tone, fans of YA or even fantasy in general should find this to be an enjoyable read and a good entry point to the work of a great author.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,030 reviews2,604 followers
June 29, 2014
4.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2014/06/29/b...

Half a King is marketed as a Young Adult novel so I’m also going to label it as such, but doing so also feels wrong somehow. It’s not just because it is so different and unconventional compared to what we may think of as “mainstream” YA out there, but I also think adult fantasy readers or those familiar with Joe Abercrombie’s gritty adult fantasy novels will no doubt feel right at home reading this too. Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Joe Abercrombie and YA? Now THIS I have to see,” well, yes, yes you do. As a fan of his work, I was very curious to see how his first venture into YA fiction would work out, and I have to say I’m quite astounded and impressed with the results.

The book follows Yarvi, a young prince born with a crippled hand. In a warrior society that values fighting prowess, this disability has limited him and led him to be treated with disdain his whole life. When his father and older brother are unexpectedly killed in an enemy ambush, Yarvi has no choice but to inherit the throne, but he barely has the chance to warm the seat before he is betrayed and left for dead. His fight for survival sees him sold into slavery, taken on the high seas and far away from home, but Yarvi knows he will not give up until he gets his revenge.

As ever, character development is Abercrombie’s strong suit, and everyone you meet is a constantly evolving tapestry, realistically woven with hardly any black-and-whites. Despite the YA nature of the novel, we don’t see a sacrifice in the quality of the characters or storytelling. Yarvi feels like the genuine product of his history and upbringing as the forgotten royal son, dismissed for a failure and never being able to become anyone important. Those sentiments have rubbed off on Yarvi himself, who has a tendency towards self-doubt and is prone to question his own worth. He’s no prince charming, and what use does he have for pride and honor? The only constants that keep him alive are his anger and sharp wit. It makes for some very interesting decisions on his part.

Also belying the familiar tale of the betrayed prince seeking to retake his stolen throne is a much more complicated story packed with unexpected twists and turns. It may have been fine-tuned for a younger audience, but the plot loses none of its subtlety. The problem with a lot of YA novels today involve the overuse of tired old tropes, and thank goodness Abercrombie decided to forgo pretty much all of them. You can never predict for a certainty where he will go with a story, and since I’ve enjoyed his crafty, clever writing in style in a lot of his adult books, I’m really glad to see it here in Half a King as well. You never know what tiny little detail can come back later on in the book and haunt you, so don’t even blink!

Best yet, while it is the first book of a series, it can most definitely be read as a standalone with no cliffhangers or glaring unresolved conflicts. Clearly, there are many more places we can go with the characters and ideas in this novel, but here we have a complete, self-contained story. Again, THANK YOU.

In sum, this feels like a young adult book. But it also feels like a Joe Abercrombie book. Take the best of both worlds, like the easy, engaging and action-packed fast pace of the former and the elegant writing style of the latter, and you have Half a King, which is Full of Awesome. I would recommend it in general, but also especially for readers who have always struggled with the YA category, or who might be suffering burnout from the same old, same old. I frequently find myself in this camp. While I love YA, sometimes all the love triangles and cliffhangers can take its toll, and a book like Half a King is the perfect cure to invigorate my interest and make the genre exciting again.
Profile Image for Athena Shardbearer.
355 reviews205 followers
December 19, 2014
Spoilers ahead!

Buddy read with Alexa

Thank you NetGalley for providing me a copy for review.

Actual Rating:
Overall-4.5 stars
YA-5 stars
Dark Fantasy 3.5 stars

Strong men are many, wise men are few.


A man swings the scythe and the ax, a man pulls the oar and makes fast the know. Most of all a man hold the shield. A man holds the line. A man stands by his shoulder-man. What kind of man can do none of these things?

I didn't ask for half a hand.

I didn't ask for half a son.

Yarvi is Prince of Gettland and studying to enter the Ministry, when he learns of the deaths of his father and brother, in turn making him King. He and his kingdom are determined to get revenge, and with a quick coronation he sets off to do his duty as king.

While he had been learning how to mend wounds these boy-these men, he realized with a sour taste in his mouth-had put all their efforts into learning how to make them.

Poor Yarvi, he never gets a break. Battling his family and his deformity, what people think about him and how they treat him and the betrayals he has to face over and over again.

"Who are you, person?"

"A cook's boy."

"Shall we play a guessing game of what my name might be?"

"You are Grom-gil-Gorm, Breaker of Swords and Maker of Orphans, King of the Vanstermen."

"You win! Though what you win remains to be seen. I am King of Vanstermen. Lately including these ill-doomed wretches that your countrymen of Gettland have so freely robbed, butchered, and stolen as slaves, against the wishes of the High King in Skekenhouse, who has asked that swords stay sheathed. He loves to spoil our fun, but there it is. Does this strike you as just, cook's boy?"


"Collar him and put him with the others"

"One less cook's boy. One more slave."

He once swore an oath, and he swore to keep it!

I, Yarvi, Son of Uthrik and Laithlin, King of Gettland, swear an oath! I swear on sun-oat and a moon-oath. I swear it before She Who Judges, and He Who Remembers, and She Who Makes Fast the Knot. Let my brother and my father and my ancestors buried here bear witness. Let He Who Watches and She Who Writes bear witness. Let all of you bear witness. Let it be a chain upon me and a goad within me. I will be revenged upon the killers of my father and my brother. This I swear!

^This is why I love high fantasy and epic fantasy. For the world building and the characters that fight for what they believe, fighting for what is right...or maybe to get what they want in life. I have yet to read any of Joe Abercrombie books, but if they read like this book...oh shit, I might just catch a bad case of Abercrombie Fever!

The character development is amazing. The world building is awesome, not to over the top and not too much detail. This is also marked as dark fantasy..and I have read darker fantasy books. I honestly think this is tame compared to the other dark fantasy I have read, but its a good starting point if you want to read dark fantasy.

I really really like Nothing<---he's awesome sauce...totally reminds me of Raven from The Black Company, but not as vicious.

I don't want to spoil anything else, but read this book...do it...Abercrombie has such a way of engaging a reader and not letting you go.

Profile Image for Myke Cole.
Author 31 books1,736 followers
February 19, 2014
HALF A KING can be summed up in a single word: Masterpiece.

There is tremendous pressure for authors to ratchet up their performance with each successive volume. Abercrombie set the bar impossibly high for himself with his magnificent FIRST LAW trilogy, and then proceeded to top himself for three successive stand-alone volumes. The expectations for this latest were so charged you could smell the ozone from a mile away.

Abercrombie's secret is character. He is a master of making us love and identify with the people he creates in just a few lines of dialogue. The men and women that people his fantasy landscapes are nasty and petty like us, ugly and broken like us, and, once in a very long while, flailing into heroism like us.

Abercrombie finds the kind of extraordinary achievement that resonates: the kind we stumble into in our own lives. We fail and fail and fail and twist in the wind, but if you look hard enough, the grain of redemption is there.

Abercrombie is a fantasy pioneer. He has an empath's sensibility, an instinctive feel for what makes people believe. He's a man who knows what makes us hope, and expertly teases it out of the dark pall he's spun, delivering a climactic punch that swells your heart even as it jolts your nerves.

HALF A KING is a coming of age story. It's a Viking saga. It's revenge tale and family drama and the return of the prodigal son.

But most of all, it's this: a short time alongside people as weak and blundering as we are, and in the midst of it all, as heroic.

Far too short a time, as it turns out. What a wonderful book.
Profile Image for Marta Álvarez.
Author 22 books5,746 followers
July 25, 2016
Ya sabéis que si algo me gusta son los buenos personajes, y el protagonista de esta historia es uno de los mejores que he leído en mucho tiempo. Yarvi es ya de por sí interesante al inicio de la historia, pero pasa por absolutamente de todo, y la forma en que evoluciona es impresionante.
Está acompañado de un elenco de secundarios no menos profundos y atractivos como personajes, y de una historia llena de tensión e intrigas, envuelta en una ambientación y un estilo deliciosos de leer.
Si debo sacarle algún fallo, admitiré que me vi venir un par de plot twists. Pero fijaos si me gustó la historia, que ni siquiera me importó demasiado.
Profile Image for Nikoleta.
680 reviews275 followers
December 2, 2017
Πολύ ωραίο! Μπαίνει απευθείας, από την πρώτη σελίδα στο ζουμί, χωρίς μπούρου μπούρου και περιττές λεπτομέρειες και αμπελοφιλοσοφίες.
Οι περιπέτειες του ήρωα μου θύμισαν κάτι απο Μπεν Χουρ (ειδικά όλο αυτό το τραβολόγημα του κουπιού στην γαλέρα) ενώ η μητέρα του (η χρυσή βασίλισσα) έβγαζε μια αύρα αλά Cersei Lannister.
Η γλώσσα είναι απλή, αλλά η αφήγηση ζωηρή, έχει ωραιές και έξυπνες ατάκες στους διαλόγους των ηρώων ενώ οι ίδιοι οι ήρωες κατέχουν μέσα τους όλες τις αποχρώσεις, όσες φωτεινές και άλλες τόσες σκοτεινές.
Η ιστορία έχει απ'όλα. Μάχες, προδοσίες, απροσδόκητες καταστάσεις και πολλά παιχνίδια του θρόνου! Προχωράω απευθείας στο επόμενο!
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,134 reviews8,140 followers
September 11, 2015
I'm wavering between a 3.5 and 4 stars for this one, but for now I'll leave it at 4.

After sleeping on it, I've decided to lower this to a 3 on Goodreads, but just know that if I could give it a 3.5 I would. I still recommend this one, it just isn't quite a 4 star read to me. Let me explain:

Half a King is a story of the underdog and revenge and a band of thieves. It has so many tropes and at times the dialogue is quite cliche. But the author occasionally does something so interesting and unexpected with these archetypes that it stops you in your tracks. The pacing of this novel is so well done. It moves quite quickly in the first half, not really giving you anytime to breath as the story progresses from plot point to plot point. And still, Abercrombie introduces the world, the characters, the conflict so succinctly and expertly that it works. I was pretty much immediately engaged with the story, interested to find out more, and compelled to read on.

In hindsight, the second half is much stronger than the first. Character development begins to show--albeit not much, but it's a 386 page novel--in the latter half, and you come to see the plot thicken and take shape. And by the end I was perfectly satisfied with the story, like watching a really thrilling action movie and feeling so relieved by the end's resolution.

And that, along with the pacing, is another excellent aspect of this novel: the cinematic writing. While I struggled a bit to visualize the world of the novel, each chapter played out like a scene from a movie or television show in my mind. They have great structure, of thrusting you into the story, giving some explanation, a quiet moment between two characters or a rousing scene among rowdy sailors, and then ending with a great lead-in to the next chapter. It played out in my mind's eye like a movie. And that was so fun to read.

So I would definitely recommend this to people who are curious about fantasy but really unsure where to start. The story is straightforward and it's technically categorized as YA (which I'm sort of hesitant to agree with), but it doesn't have the intense world-building and complicated plot structure of traditional adult high fantasy. It's still well written and entertaining, and it has 2 sequels if you're into that kind of thing. Overall, a solid read made all the more enjoyable by buddy-reading it with my friend, Amerie :]
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