Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Half A King Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Half A King by Joe Abercrombie

Half A King is a novel about Yarvi, the youngest prince of the nation of Gettland. As the youngest prince, Yarvi is not heir to the throne and is instead training to join the Ministry, to be an advisor to the King and representative of the Over-King. Which is good because Yarvi is a thin, uncharismatic youth marked by the misfortune of having a lame hand. However, when his father and elder brother are murdered Yarvi finds himself suddenly the king of Gettland and weighted with the duty of avenging his fallen family. But that quest is betrayed, and Yarvi finds himself on a much longer, much harder path to revenge.

Half A King is many ways a straight forward Epic Fantasy tale. There is a young hero sent on an epic quest for revenge which is complicated and requires the hero to grow and gain experience points and eventually complete the quest and return home a changed person. It is also a fairly well written novel: the characters are vivid, the story has some decent twists, and the grim reality of the story and moral complexity of the plot are treated with a maturity that is frequently lacking in Fantasy novels. Basically Half A King is a short, well written, Epic Fantasy machine that doesn't pander and was fun to read.

This is kind of one of the problems with it. I am a HUGE Joe Abercrombie fan! His more substantial, more adult novels are kind of my ideal for epic fantasy. They are gritty, darkly hilarious, and filled with granular characters who are all bastards. These are books where largely awful people do the selfish, greedy, well meaning, and horrific things that real human people would do in an epic fantasy setting. His other novels are also really articulate and smart examinations of genre, either subversive deconstructions of Epic Fantasy as a whole or interesting experiments that combine genres and examine tropes. I mean, these are books that are highly enjoyable as pure Epic Fantasy adventures, but they are also mature literature and uncompromising. Against these other works, these substantial meals of literature, Half A King is a snack. It is by no means a bad novel, it's just not as in depth or as literary as the other books. I enjoyed it, but less than Abercrombie's other works.

The thing is, Half A King is ostensibly a Young Adult novel. Perhaps motivated by wanting to write something he could actually share with his children before they were adults or out of a desire to write some shorter, lighter books before returning to his harsher adult works, Joe Abercrombie has made a foray into YA fiction. And while Half A King maybe was not the most satisfying novel for me, an adult reader, it is freaking perfect as a YA book. It's lacks in girth, unflinching horribleness, and thematic complexity make it far more accessible to a younger, more casual reader. And yet, Half A King's insistence on consequences, moral relativism, and round characters make it a fairly mature book that doesn't wallow in grit, but unlike many YA offerings, doesn't condescend either. This is a book I would have really, really enjoyed as a tween reader. I'm also quite impressed with the diversity of the novels characters: Ambercrombie does a really good job including characters of different ethnic backgrounds and genders and affords all of them agency and personhood that is depressingly rare in Fantasy novels, especially those geared to younger readers. Unlike some of my childhood favourites, I don't feel hinky recommending this book to any youthful reader. Seriously, this will be a book I thrust on youths in the future, particularly male youths who often have a hard time connecting to books and think swords are awesome.

So would I recommend this book? It depends. If you are a youth or looking for a book for a youth than YES! This book is great for that reading demographic! If you are an adult looking for a Fantasy novel, well, maybe. If you have never read a Joe Abercrombie novel, I would recommend his adult books first, probably the Second Law trilogy. If you are already a Joe Abercrombie fan who is on the fence about reading his YA book, I'd suggest that you give it a try: some Abercrombie is better than no Abercrombie and a lot of his skills at plotting and character come through. If you are just a big 'ol fantasy fan who is always looking for more novels to read, go for it. It might be a bit predictable and familiar, but its good and you'll probably enjoy it. I'd also suggest this one as a travel book: it's hardcover, slim, and the perfect length to read during your average ocean or continent spanning plane flight.

Post by Michael Bround

The First Law, Best Served Cold, The Heroes
Red Country

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