“Half a King (Shattered Sea)” by Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey, 352 pages, in stores July 15)
Who says violence doesn’t solve anything?
For years, the sword-and-sorcery genre got stuck chasing its own tail. Most authors sought to usurp the master — J.R.R. Tolkien — and in the process turned fantasy into a lethargic beast barely able to move under the burden of excessive world-building and political maneuverings so convoluted they would leave Machiavelli scratching his head.
And then along came Joe Abercrombie, pen in one hand, sword in the other, to lay bare the throat of the beast and expose the underlying flesh and blood.
“Half a King,” the first book in a new trilogy, is the story of Prince Yarvi. His deformed hand has marked him as a less-than-ideal heir. His own father, the king, considers him to be half a man, so the prince is ushered into studying for the ministry. Once he joins, he will no longer be a member of the royal household, and no longer an embarrassment.
But suddenly, through violence and bloodshed, Yarvi is catapulted into the position of king himself: ill-prepared, ill-equipped and ill-at-ease. Having sworn an oath to avenge his murdered father and brother, he undertakes a mission that turns out to be an orchestrated attempt on his life as well.
Left for dead, he is captured by slave traders and sold into service as a ship’s oarsman. His education and his quick mind enable him to become indispensable to the captain, and he is promoted to ship storekeeper — but still a slave. He has ample time to formulate his own risky plan for revenge.
He and his fellow slaves eventually effect a mutiny, destroy the ship and flee on foot toward his hometown. On the way, he starts assembling the pieces of his plan.
And when he returns home? Well, the pleasure of finding out what happens next is in your hands.
This is the story of a young man on a journey to discover who and what he is, not just by virtue of royal blood, but also by what he finds in his heart.
On the surface it may seem like a “softer” Abercrombie story, but that may just be the result of a slightly different approach: shorter chapters, smaller cast of characters and a straight-and-steady arc that follows Prince Yarvi from beginning to end. Other than that, all the familiar elements of his earlier works are present: swordplay, treachery and betrayal, risking of life and limb in the service of beliefs and plot twists so finely crafted they are all but invisible until revealed.
Joe Abercrombie has once again slain the unwieldy beast, and offers up the choicest cuts to us.
— Jim Basile,
for The Oklahoman