fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie grimdark fantasy book reviewsHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie

What happens when you are born crippled in a medieval world? What if your physical impairment is sufficient to leave you always at a disadvantage to others? How do you survive? In Half a King, the first book of Joe Abercrombie’s SHATTERED SEA series, those questions are answered in exciting and realistic ways.

Yarvi is a Prince of the ruling family of Gettland, one of the nations that surround the Shattered Sea. He has found his niche studying to become a Minister, a quasi-monk adviser to the ruler. His brilliant mind makes up for the half-formed arm and hand that he was born with. As the son of King Uthrik and with a strong, physically capable older brother, Yarvi won’t need to rely on the traditional sources of martial prowess to survive.

When King Uthrik is killed and his heir with him, Yarvi is thrust into the unwelcome role of King of Gettland. It’s a role for which he is ill-prepared on many levels, but with the support of his highly intelligent, politically skilled mother Queen Laithlin, there is a slim chance he can pull off the transition from unwanted younger son to ruling monarch of a Viking-like nation. At the ceremony sending his father and brother on their way to the next life, Yarvi swears, in front of his mother, uncle, and others to avenge the murder of the father who didn’t want him.

En route to confronting the neighboring King, whose hand was linked to the murder of his father and brother, Yarvi is himself betrayed. While fleeing for his life, Yarvi ends up captured, sold into slavery and forced into the role of a physical machine… a rower on a trading ship, where his physical weakness is exposed and his life expectancy grows short.

Abercrombie has nothing to prove when writing in this genre. His command of combat, intrigue and betrayal are well established and Half a King feels like a master at work. The dark, harsh reality of the world that the characters live in is well depicted and there is a nice balance between action and the betrayal which leads to the growth of the protagonist. Half a King is not ground-breaking work, but it’s interesting and fun to read. I can’t wait for the second installment of SHATTERED SEA.

~John Hulet

The king of Gettland must be a doting son to Mother War, however ill-suited he might be. He had to prove to the older warriors ranged around the square that he could be more than a one-handed embarrassment.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie grimdark fantasy book reviewsJoe Abercrombie has built a reputation on stories both gritty and rough, whose characters are strong and often in ways that are not so obvious. His genre is considered fantasy, but this story has no magic or dragons, though plenty of action, steel and adventure.

Half a King is focused on Yarvi, the youngest son of a king, younger brother to the successor to the throne in Gettland. Yarvi is studying to become a Minister — an advisor/wizard (not the magical kind… more of the medieval scientific kind) — while forgoing any future claim on crown or wife. Before he ‘graduates’ to Minister, his brother and father are killed through an act of deception, and the young boy, never a fighter, small, weak and with only one fully functional hand, is called to the throne.

Only very white, laid out on those chill slabs in that chill room with shrouds drawn up to their armpits and naked swords gleaming on their chests. Yarvi kept expecting his brother’s mouth to twitch in sleep. HIs father’s eyes to open, to meet his with that familiar scorn. But they did not. They never would again.

While Yarvi swears vengeance, the tables turn quickly in an act of treachery when his Uncle attempts an assassination in order to claim the throne for himself. Yarvi survives but is sold as a slave to a trading ship, chained to a bench and forced to row.

Yarvi, much stronger in mind and wit than brawn and muscle, eventually works his way off of the rowing bench. And while “enemies are the price of success,” Yarvi also collects a handful of friends, an ensemble cast worthy of a series (Abercrombie is, in fact, planning two sequels). Yarvi is the focal point; no single character stands out significantly from the others, but as a group they satisfy the reader through their conflicting and complementary qualities.

I couldn’t help but make connections to George R.R. Martin‘s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Aside from the medieval atmosphere, Abercrombie’s world is flush with history and mythology. Without hammering the reader with a myriad of meaningless backstory, he subtley introduces the mythological depth of his world’s history and slowly reinforces it over the course of the story. Also like Martin, Abercrombie loves to embed gems of wisdom like “…great warriors die no better than other men. And usually sooner.” Most of these come from Gettland’s Minister, Yarvi’s wizened old teacher. Think of a modified version of a Martin maester.

Half a King is strong in tone and bold in voice. The themes are heavy and dark — vengeance, death, slavery, regret. The story is a tad melodramatic, but within the context of this epic tale, the drama is appropriate, while adding to the heft of the atmosphere. Abercrombie balances the weightiness with a sharp sense of humor and sharper wit.

Abercrombie has commented that he wrote this book with a young adult audience in mind. While the story is “clean” there was very little indication, other than its length, that implied “young adult.”

~Jason Golomb

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie grimdark fantasy book reviewsI’m a huge Abercrombie fan, and I loved most of Half A King. Abercrombie’s characters are amazing, per usual, and his prose is absolutely beautiful. My only reservation is that I saw the “surprise” ending coming about halfway through the book… oh, well.

~Kevin Wei

Shattered Sea — Publisher: “I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.” Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand. The deceived will become the deceiver. Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge. The betrayed will become the betrayer. Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could. Will the usurped become the usurper? But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.


  • John Hulet

    JOHN HULET is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years. We still hear from him every once in a while.

  • Jason Golomb

    JASON GOLOMB graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

  • Kevin Wei

    KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is political/digital strategist based in Harlem. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea (Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of SF/F at the ripe old age of 5). Kevin loves epic fantasy, military SF/F, New Weird, and some historical fantasy; some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. In his view, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he's extremely particular about this last bit. You can find him at: