I knew going in that Half a King was meant for a young adult (YA) audience. I didn't lower my expectations of the book because of that, but I had a feeling that it wouldn't compare to his previous work. Half a King lacks the rawness and grit of Joe Abercrombie's six previous novels. The violence is there, the betrayal is there, and revenge is the biggest thing of all. It just doesn't seem to have the same kind of gravity it does in his previous works. I walked away from the story going "oh cool." Definitely a story that younger people can get interested in. However, being a reader, fan, fan boy -- stealer of some of his style -- I found it lacked the same kind of intensity that made me fall in love with Joe. I think that's the biggest complaint I have of Half a King.
Yarvi the main character is pretty likeable, yet somewhat uninspiring for me. I found myself more attached to the supporting characters Sumael and Rulf. Nothing reminded me of The Bloody Nine somewhat and I really liked his character up until the twist at the end. His own selfish motivations led him to be less likeable. Yarvi off the bat seemed like a spin on Monzcarro Murcatto from Best Served Cold with the mangled hand, but lacked her fierceness until later on. He kept having to guess at himself and come to the realization that he could get some things accomplished despite his handicap. The way the story turns out, its hard to find any sympathy for Yarvi or to root for him. Thus Abercrombie still proves he can write grey characters who aren't exactly good or evil. The truth that people make decisions on a whim, out of fear, or greed is ever apparent. Abercrombie continues to excel at showing that not many people are plainly good or evil, but some of the characters here lack at least some consistency. Particularly Yarvi's own mother who seems to change significantly as the book unfolds. She's goes from witch, to a loving parent, and then back to being an opportunist. But maybe that's her grey. Maybe?
I guess the weakest point for me of the whole story is that it seems finished in some ways. I'm not necessarily interested in what happens next. The way the book ended seems like it could have been a standalone novel, but Half the World is next and I'll be reading it. I'm a fan boy and I'm interested to see how Abercrombie has woven it together. While Half a King is definitely not his best effort, the writing is still very good and interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. I read it in two sittings which didn't take much time. I do hope some of the mythology of the world is explained in greater detail, as it seemed to be a only backdrop to Yarvi's story.
I recommend Half A King for young people unfamiliar with Joe's work. If you're a longtime fan of Joe and want to say you've read all his work, pick it up. However, if you're expecting anything like the previous books, this one may be far too "light" for you. Borrow it from a library as you might be pissed if you spend your hard earned money. I think the book was good enough to get young people interested in his older works which were definitely stellar in my opinion. The book gets really good in the chapter Heave, and from there on you can really see Joe coming through in the pages. It's still writing you can feel, just with a much lighter tone that wont make a 12 year tuck tail and hide under the sheets or mommas skirt.
Until next write...