Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a KingA review by Nalini Haynes

Prince Yavi was born with only one finger and a thumb on his left hand. The missing digits shaped his life and body. Unable to properly grasp a shield, Yavi lacks the strength considered necessary to wield a sword and crown; instead Yavi seeks solace in becoming a minister/healer. Only days before Yavi is to take his final test, graduating to the brotherhood and shedding all familial ties, Yavi’s father and older brother are murdered. Yavi’s mother insists he take the throne to shore up her power. People consider Yavi’s disability makes him Half a King.

At the funeral, Yavi vows revenge on the murderers before leading a strike force to attack a neighboring country. There Yavi realizes his error before plunging into the sea, literally falling from royalty into slavery.

Abercrombie seeds a plot-twist. I am ashamed to say that, although the original seeding bugged me, I didn’t join the dots until maybe half-way between the seeding and the reveal. The beauty of this twist is knowing it’s coming increases anticipation of impending conflict.

Yavi’s disability has shaped him, especially in defining his weaknesses, but he has strengths that are brought to the fore through adversity. Yavi is neither healed nor is he a magical person. I applaud Abercrombie for writing a character with disability who is a whole person, believable and sympathetic to a broad audience.

George R R Martin has left his mark on Abercrombie’s work. George has ‘In the Game of Thrones you win or you die’ and now Abercrombie has ‘A king must win. The rest is dust.’ High stakes!

Yavi’s coming-of-age story is part Fellowship of the Ring rising, part Assassin’s Apprentice. Although bloody and brutal in places, Half a King is not nearly as grimdark as Abercrombie’s usual fare. It’s a suitable bridging story for young adults and adults alike. Women characters are few and far between but those present are interesting and varied; Abercrombie treats women as individuals with skills. Fast-paced, carrying the reader swiftly towards the inevitable confrontation, Half a King surprised me in the denouement less by ‘who’ and more by what happened next.

Highly recommended.

  • Rating: ★★★★★ 5 out of 5 stars
  • Format: Trade paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN: 9780007558483
  • ISBN10: 0007558481