Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

“A good one sacrifices everything to win, and stabs who he must however he can. The great warrior is the one who still breathes when the crows feast. The great king is the one who watches the carcasses of his enemies burn. Let Father Peace spill tears over the methods. Mother War smiles upon results.”

If you believe there should be a barrier between adults reading young adult fiction, then Joe Abercrombie probably needs to have a word with you.

After reading Half a King in two sittings, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my favorite YA book. Ever. Let alone just a favorite.

If that hasn’t enticed you cynics, I don’t know what will.

Joe Abercrombie’s seventh book (and my first of his) hooks you from the very beginning.

The king is dead, murdered alongside his heir. Now the only son to take the Black Throne is his youngest. Problem is, the kid’s a cripple, and in a world where the strong arm is what’s favored, Yarvi is going to have to work for the kingdom to respect him. More importantly, he’s going to have to work to earn some self-confidence.

Enter a betrayal, slavers, and finding himself along the way. It’s a touching story, but no simple coming of age tale. It’s dark. It’s brutal. And I love it.

Throughout his journey, Yarvi becomes one of the most compelling characters I have read to date. I know with as much hyperbole as I throw around in these reviews, you might doubt my words, but trust me; read and find out for yourself. He’s a cunning child who has to make a name for himself when the only weapon he has is his mind.

But, he ultimately takes down the usurper with not his devious tricks, but a group of friends. Again, not as sappy as I’m making it out to be. Trust me.

“’What is the world coming to when an honest man cannot burn corpses without suspicion?’”

It’s from this amazing camaraderie, humor, and deep characterization that the novel blossoms. But mostly humor.

As I said, Yarvi is an amazing protagonist. He starts off small and weak and afraid, maybe even a little annoying, but his character arc redeems him. Why else would I like him? There are plenty of others, from the crazy pirate queen to the slave girl that yearns to see her home again, and a man who only wants to drink from his home well one last time. And Nothing. He might be my favorite character I’ve read all year. Quotable, insane, and deadly. What’s not to love?

But I think the greatest strength of Abercrombie is not his prose (of which I’ll get to in a second), but his ability to make you rethink people. A lot of nasty creatures lurk between these pages, and all of them are human. As you progress, layers get pulled off and you begin to rethink the characters. Some good people become evil and others get inspected in a new light. Some, even, are flipped through the cycle multiple times.

The only way to explain this is to call it a gift, and I’m glad Abercrombie is using it.

“You may need two hands to fight someone. But only one to stab them in the back.”

However, this book wouldn’t be a favorite if I didn’t mention the style. And what a lovely piece of prose it is.

Put bluntly, it’s what The Name of the Wind’s prose should’ve been considering all the hype I’ve read about it. This story is told in a rhythmic, haunting tempo that flows right off the page.  It helps create a nice, bleak atmosphere that grows and grows until every word begins to cut and amaze.

You could pick any page and find a quote to fill any lesson, and probably half would be from Nothing. In fact, I recently used one for a speech I had to give for a school. Yes, that’s how you know this is one for the record books.

So if you’re still worried that YA is a piece of trite, look no further to be expelled of these thoughts. While the length might be half of most fantasy doorstoppers and Yarvi half the age of most heroes, this is no half a book.

“And Yarvi realized then that Death does not bow to each person who passes her, does not sweep out her arm respectfully to show the way, speaks no profound words, unlocks no bolts.”

*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*

Rating: 9/10

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