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Book review: 'Half a King (Shattered Sea)' by Joe Abercrombie

Abercrombie’s newest book demonstrates again that he’s the antidote to George R.R. Martin. “Half a King” skips the politics and world-building to tell a straight-ahead sword and sorcery tale.
Jim Basile, For The Oklahoman Modified: July 5, 2014 at 11:29 pm •  Published: July 6, 2014
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“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.

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