The best stories are motivated by revenge. Revenge gives characters drive and passion to succeed and also survive, and this just doesn’t happen with other stories. Joe Abercrombie’s best works have all been driven by revenge and Half a King, the first book in his new trilogy, stays true to form.
After six novels set in a sprawling fantasy world of deserts, mountains, and crumbling civilisations with complicated wars and political power plays surprising readers, it is refreshing to find a new, close knit setting with a story intently focussed on characters.
The writing is excellent; clean, soaring descriptions and fast-paced gritty action which grabs the reader and forces them to believe in the world Abercrombie has created. Battle scenes can be tricky for writers to pull off since they have to be visceral and engaging, not over too soon but not dragging on for twenty pages either.
The skirmishes of Half a King are well-plotted and exciting, spaced well throughout the story and never easily won. The development of a lead character, Yarvi, is well-paced and gratifying – the fearful, irritable boy (bordering on whiny) hardens into a cunning man who is worth following.
Unfortunately, despite Abercrombie’s superior writing skill and the exciting dip into a well-established world there seems to be something missing. Lacking are the rich descriptions of the characters, from the simpering bureaucrats to the potty mouthed mercenaries of previous books and their criss-crossing loyalties. The absence of back and forth honour and double dealing betrayal of key characters who switch sides every other chapter makes Half a King seem just that little bit tamer than Abercrombie’s previous works.
It’s interesting to follow one character’s story throughout the novel, rather than the switching of locations and points of view that have made up his previous books. We get a much deeper bond with Yarvi, but the other characters seem less fleshed out, more two dimensional-there is no anguish when key characters are killed. I miss the tough, sarcastic women and the leathery, battle-hardened brigands of The Heroes and Best Served Cold.
The religion and culture of the Half a King world is interesting, and if Abercrombie develops them further throughout the series it could be fantastic. There are tiny hints that this “circular” Shattered Sea could link to the “Circle Sea” of Abercrombie’s world in previous books which would be brilliant and could provide answers to the loose threads left hanging at the end of Red Country.
Just not as good as it could be
It’s a good book; an excellent story with lots of promise for development and enough unanswered questions to leave the reader waiting for the next instalment. It just seems that the book doesn’t quite live up to what it could be.
For anyone looking for a new Game of Thrones to get stuck into, Abercrombie’s books are violent, juicy and filled with twice the double dealing. Half a King is an intriguing, if somewhat rocky, start to what promises to be an excellent new series.
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