Abercrombie, Joe. Half a King.

NY: Del Rey, 2014.

Abercrombie has established a major reputation in a relatively short time with his gritty “First Law” fantasy trilogy and the three sequel volumes, all set in the same world and with lots of overlapping characters. There are no shining, pointy-eared elves in his bloody-minded stories, and no wise wizards.

In fact, the closest he comes to wizards at all are the Magi, and you don’t want to turn your back on them for an instant. It has become practically a mantra that Joe doesn’t do heroes.

This volume, though, is the first installment of a new trilogy, and it’s obvious that the author’s intentions here are somewhat different. It’s a coming-of-age story that seems almost custom designed for teenage readers whom you might hesitate to hand the “First Law” books to. Not that it isn’t just as enjoyable for Joe’s adult fans. The POV is also the protagonist’s alone, rather than being spread among a number of characters, and the plot-line is much more linear than in his earlier books.

Yarvi is the young son of the king of Gettland, on the shore of the Shattered Sea, part of a broadly Viking-style society in which making war on one’s neighbors is a way of life. He’s smart and willing but he was born with a crippled hand — there’s only a thumb and part of one finger — which excludes him from swinging a sword and most other exploits expected of a prince in their world. Instead, he has been studying to become a Minister — an advisor to one of his world’s rulers, with no family, no inheritance, and no worldly ambitions. It seems like the logical thing for him to do, and he’s about to go and take his exams when word comes that both his father and his older brother (both noted fighters) have been killed by treachery. Suddenly, whether he likes it or not, Yarvi is the king. And the first order of business, as his uncle insists, is to take vengeance for those deaths. Of course, it’s a set-up. No way is young Yarvi going to be allowed to become king. It would be the end of Gettland. But he manages to survive, just barely, and he vows his own vengeance.

His fans know that Joe does revenge plots really well and you’ll be cheering Yarvi on as he learns to deal with the world, gains some allies and even friends from the dregs of society, and begins the long climb back up the ladder. He’s not really a hero, either, but he’s certainly a sympathetic protagonist, for all that he deploys poison more skillfully than a blade. The characterizations are very nicely done and the world in which the whole thing is set is fully realized. No one who enjoyed the author’s earlier work is going to be disappointed with this one.

The only thing that puzzles me is that the plot wraps up too neatly at the end of the book. I have to wonder where Joe is going to go with the next two volumes. It seems almost that they will have to be sequels themselves rather than the rest of a trilogy, and that’s a different sort of animal. We shall see, and I shall be waiting avidly for the next one.


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