For some reason 2014 has been a slow reading year for me. In between completing various anthology projects – all now happily delivered – I had only read two novels prior to the Easter weekend: Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep and Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon. For someone who routinely used to read four or five novels a week, this is far off the pace, and far from what I’d like to be reading to keep up with the field.
Anyway, during Swancon this weekend I happened to mention to my friend Stefen, proprietor of Stefen’s Books here in Perth, that I’d had no luck in trying to get hold of a copy of Joe Abercrombie’s forthcoming YA fantasy novel Half a King when he reached into his bag and presented me with a copy, saying he’d started to read it but I might like to read it first.
I took the copy home with me on Saturday evening intending to get to it “soon”, but after a long, relaxing family Easter lunch it began to look like exactly the right book to read, and I wasn’t too far wrong.
Joe Abercrombie is best known for his “grim dark” fantasy novels set in the First Law universe. Half a King is a little different. Set in a world that feels heavily influenced by Viking sagas and the icy windswept Northern corners of our own world, it’s the story of a young prince born with a deformed hand who is thrown unexpectedly into the kingship when his father and brother are killed in battle.
Without giving away more than you’d find on the dust jacket of the book, our hero Prince Yarvi is betrayed, loses his place in his world, falls to the lowest of lows, and must use his wits to try to fulfil the oath he has made to avenge his father and brother.
Although Half a King lacks some of the darkness and even weirdness of a typical Abercrombie novel, it does have a propulsive plot that drags you forward, a bunch of engaging characters and more than enough twists and turns to make sure you’re constantly engaged. And while it takes a very conventional looking young hero faces adversity to win out in the end kind of story, Abercrombie adds more than enough to it to make keep it interesting.
I admit when I read the back cover of the book and then the opening chapter I wondered if I would find story a bit too generic and predictable, but I fell into the book very quickly and was still reading at 2am, which hasn’t happened in a long time, and the first thing I did when I woke up was to finish it. There are twists and turns aplenty and I, for one, can’t wait to read Half a World when it comes out early next year. I’ve not read enough to know if Half a King is a “book of the year” or not, but whether it is or not, it’s definitely a terrific read.
How would I synopsise it? Imagine if Robert E Howard had written David Edding’s The Belgariad, and you might get a hint of it. Fun stuff!
My sincere thanks to Stefen for letting me borrow his copy of the book.