Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

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I read all of the First Law series within a week, then swiftly moved onto to the other books set in the same world. I was left with book hangover and decided to pick up his other series even though it’s YA and I don’t usually go for those.


We meet Yarvi, prince of Gettland, as he’s inheriting his father’s throne. Both his brother and his father went on a mission of peace to a neighboring power and were killed in the process. Yarvi wasn’t planning on being the king of Gettland, he was in training to become a minister which would require him to leave behind all claims on inheritance, marriage, children, and other ties to his family. He was looking forward to that, he didn’t have any desire to take on a role in the kingdom and would prefer to be ‘left to the shadows’. He’s deeply disappointed with the turn of events and is barely holding it together.

After his fathers death things move very quickly, his brother was betrothed to his cousin and he’s now expected to take his place. He’s obviously nervous about that since he wasn’t planning on getting married, and girls don’t enter his thoughts. Thankfully for him, his betrothal and marriage turn out to be okay because she’s a nice person who is humble, pokes fun at herself, and has common interests with Yarvi. Shortly after he’s married he’s shipped off on a mission of revenge, his mother won’t let this kind of slight go unanswered and demands that he and his uncle go on a mission of vengeance. His uncle is one of the only people who shows any sign of affection for him and has always been a calming presence in his life. As a kid he would listen to war stories his uncle and father would tell war stories around the dinner table and he would fantasize about taking part one day. However, during the vengeance raid, he quickly figures out that he’s not cut out for that kind of thing. He’s also betrayed, shoved off a cliff by one of his own and is presumed dead. He managed to live through the fall only to be captured by slavers and put on a ship to be a rower. The rest of the plot is Yarvi figuring out how to get back to his kingdom so he can call out the traitors and take back what’s his.

Yarvi, in the beginning, is a pretty soft person.  He cries when his father dies, he cries when he realizes his whole life he envisioned it is going to be over and there’s nothing he can do about it. He also apologizes a lot, mostly to his mother, for never being quite the king people expect. Even though he’s been named king those in authority around the castle don’t take him seriously, they speak over him and make orders without his approval. He’s regarded as kind of a joke and he’s perpetually anxious, angry, and frustrated. As the story progresses and he gets thrown into the ‘real world’ he has to learn to sink or swim, and it forces him to grow up quickly.

The world building like in the First Law series is low-fantasy, it’s not filled with witches, wizards, spell casting and magical creatures. There are different gods like the Mother Sea, or the Father of Peace but you don’t know how much or any of their religion is ‘real’. It’s a medieval-ish setting with swords being the predominant weapons and castles with torches and all that good stuff. The world building took sort of a back burner on this one, there’s a lot of time just spent on a boat with slaves so there wasn’t a lot of time to get into what else was going on with the world. You do get to hear tidbits about the lost lore of the Elves though, and I really want to know more about that.

The book had a nice even medium pace, it’s not quite as fast-paced as some of the First Law series can be, but it wasn’t slow by any means. The writing I felt was a little lacklustre compared to the First Law, however. I can’t quite pinpoint why I feel that way, but there weren’t any passages that stuck with me, and there weren’t any quotes where I was like “that’s so badass”. I had those feelings a lot during the First Law series, but not so much with this one – that’s not to say the writing is bad, it just didn’t click with me the same way.

Overall I liked the book, I just didn’t love it the way I did with the First Law. I didn’t get behind the main character like I did with Logen Nine Fingers or Glokta and there were a few ‘coincidences’ that really stretched things, a little too perfect who ended up bumping into who and where. That said, I liked it enough to continue on with it, and the review for the next in the series will be up at some point.


For people who like

  • coming of age stories
  • revenge stories
  • bleaker tone
  • medium length books
  • gritty ya
  • MC becomes a slave
  • stuck on a boat


  • Plot: 12/15
  • Characters: 12.5/15
  • World Building: 11/15
  • Writing: 13/15
  • Pacing: 12.5/15
  • Originality: 10/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 7.5/10

Final Score: 78.5/100




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