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  1. #1
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    The Half a King Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

    Book 1: Half a King

    The abrupt death of his father and elder brother puts Prince Yarvi on the throne of Gettland. It's not something he ever wanted: born with only half a hand, he's spent his life training to become a Minister, a man of learning and science. Thrust onto the throne, Yarvi must instead take up the sword to avenge his dead kin and defeat his kingdom's enemies, from within and without.

    Half a King is the first novel in a new trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. It's also his first novel for a new publisher and the first set outside his signature First Law world, not to mention his first Young Adult novel. It's a change of gears for the British author, and there's a fair bit riding on how he manages to pull it off.

    Those hoping for a radical change in direction or prose style will be disappointed, though conversely those hoping he'd stick doing at what he does best will be overjoyed. This is still very much a Joe Abercrombie novel, meaning there's an air of both cynicism and humour to proceedings and there's a fair amount of violence. There isn't much swearing and no sex at all, but beyond that the only way you'd know this was a YA novel is because the author said so on his website.

    The main character is Yarvi, initially presented as a crippled, intellectual man forced to exist in a society where valour with a sword or axe is praised above everything else. Yarvi is constantly on the back foot until put into a situation where his wits and education can be used to the mutual benefit of himself and a band of companions. Abercrombie paints deftly the relationships between Yarvi and his new companions, such as the enigmatic swordsman 'Nothing', the master navigator Sumael and the bowman Rulf, fusing them into a genuine fellowship over the course of many trials and adventures: a harsh overland march through a frozen, barren wasteland is particularly vivid. Working with less than half the word-count of any of his previous books, this is also his most concise, focused novel to date.

    The benefit of that is that there are not many wasted words and the story moves extremely briskly. The downside is that the worldbuilding doesn't get as much of a look-in as it sometimes needs to. My review copy didn't have a map and it doesn't look like the final version will have one either, which is a shame because the geographical interrelationships between the various kingdoms of the Shattered Sea and the northern wastes from where Yarvi has to make his overland journey are not strongly presented in the text. Characterisation outside of the central group is also a little vague: the machinations and plots of the main villain seem a bit random without further exploration of his character. These issues mean that Half a King does not satisfy as much as a complete package as Abercrombie's prior novels.

    However, whilst this is the opening of a trilogy it is surprising that Abercrombie is able to bring as much closure as he does to the novel. There are still loose ends to be addressed in the sequels, but there are no cliffhangers. Given the relatively rapid release schedule of the trilogy (the second volume is due at the start of 2015), Abercrombie could have been forgiven for adopting a more serialised approach than he does.

    Half a King (****) is in many ways vintage Abercrombie: action-packed with a vividly-told plot and characterisation is which straightforward on the surface but gives way to hidden depths underneath. The concise page count makes for a focused story but also doesn't leave much room for deeper explorations of the world. Still, this is a fast-paced, gripping story with a few nice twists. The novel will be published on 3 July in the UK and 8 July in the USA.

  2. #2
    Saturn Comes Back Around Evil Agent's Avatar
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    Thanks, I was curious how this new project would turn out. Glad to hear it's enjoyable overall, though I'm not sure whether or not I'll ever read it. I'm loving The Heroes right now, though. I think Joe gets better with every book.

  3. #3
    So Wert can you clear a few things up for me. Goodreads states Half a King is the first book in the Shattered Sea Series. I see a couple sources calling this a trilogy. I've also heard places, your blog is one, saying it's the first book in the Grimdark Thing series. What's the real scoop here?

  4. #4
    Registered User gesler0811's Avatar
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    Sounds promising! I read "The Heroes" before I realized it was part of the First Law trilogy. Then I went back and read "The Blade Itself." That's all the Abercrombie I've read so far, but I am very interested in this project, which I actually didn't know anything about until now. I'll be adding it to my library queue, if they have it. I love his style, and the way he depicts his battles. If there is more of that, which is sounds like he does, then I'm happy!

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by gesler0811 View Post
    Sounds promising! I read "The Heroes" before I realized it was part of the First Law trilogy. Then I went back and read "The Blade Itself." That's all the Abercrombie I've read so far, but I am very interested in this project, which I actually didn't know anything about until now. I'll be adding it to my library queue, if they have it. I love his style, and the way he depicts his battles. If there is more of that, which is sounds like he does, then I'm happy!
    The Heroes is not part of the First Law trilogy. Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings Those 3 are the complete First Law Trilogy. After this trilogy another book was written in the same world called Best Served Cold. Not a part of the trilogy either, but a part of the same world with one of the main POVs being a small character from the Trilogy. Some cameo appearances as well. Next was The Heroes. Same as BSC, part of the world, but not part of the trilogy. Last was Red Country. The last 3 are all stand-alone novels set in the same universe as the first trilogy. And every single book is amazing!

  6. #6
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris777 View Post
    So Wert can you clear a few things up for me. Goodreads states Half a King is the first book in the Shattered Sea Series. I see a couple sources calling this a trilogy. I've also heard places, your blog is one, saying it's the first book in the Grimdark Thing series. What's the real scoop here?
    The book has no formal series title attached to it. Amazon is calling it the Half a King Trilogy. If Shattered Sea is the series title, that's a fairly late development.

    This is not uncommon in the UK: Richard Morgan's fantasy trilogy doesn't have a formal title over here (in the States it seems to be referred to as the Land Fit For Heroes Trilogy though) either.

  7. #7
    Registered User gesler0811's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris777 View Post
    The Heroes is not part of the First Law trilogy. Blade Itself, Before They are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings Those 3 are the complete First Law Trilogy. After this trilogy another book was written in the same world called Best Served Cold. Not a part of the trilogy either, but a part of the same world with one of the main POVs being a small character from the Trilogy. Some cameo appearances as well. Next was The Heroes. Same as BSC, part of the world, but not part of the trilogy. Last was Red Country. The last 3 are all stand-alone novels set in the same universe as the first trilogy. And every single book is amazing!
    Thanks for the clarification, I got my facts wrong, apparently. When I read Heroes, I didn't realize it fit into that world, I thought it was a standalone novel completely on its own. Then I started reading The Blade Itself and said, "Wait a minute, I know a lot of these characters already!" I don't think reading them out of order like this hurt anything, but I do wonder if I missed out on any references in The Heroes that I might have understood, had I read them in order.

    Also, Whirrun was pretty much my favorite character ever

  8. #8
    @PeteMC666 PeteMC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gesler0811 View Post
    I don't think reading them out of order like this hurt anything, but I do wonder if I missed out on any references in The Heroes that I might have understood, had I read them in order.
    The Bayaz/East Wind stuff would have made more sense if you'd read them in order, and the references to the Bloody Nine, but no real harm done I don't think.

    I've finally got round to reading Red Country, about half way through so far and loving it.

  9. #9
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Book 2: Half the World

    The High King of the Shattered Sea is displeased with the new King of Gettland and his defiance. Forces religious and military gather to bring Gettland to heel, but the king's advisor is crafty and cunning beyond his years. Yarvi brings together a new fellowship to travel halfway across the known world to the First of All Cities and there make an audacious play for an alliance. Unfortunately, his crew consists of cutthroats, ex-criminals, disgraced boy warriors and violent murderers.

    Half the World is the middle volume of The Shattered Sea and picks up several years after the end of Half a King. This novel features a structural shift from the previous one, with the narrative now divided between two new characters - Brand and Thorn - and Yarvi relegated to more of a supporting/mentor role. It's a nice structural twist that means that Yarvi's storyline continues from his previous book, but is now presented more in flashes and glimpses from the other characters. If you haven't read Half a King, you won't notice too much of this but those who have will find themselves able to follow Yarvi's story as it develops mostly off-stage.

    Thorn is where much of the book's marketing has been directed and it's easy to see why. Less of a tomboy and more of a walking ball of anger, Thorn could be the milder, younger sister of Ferro (from The First Law Trilogy). Her character arc is - at least somewhat - traditional but she remains a vibrant and well-written protagonist. Brand, the young warrior disgraced for being too nice and who has to make good, is a much more standard character but Abercrombie gives him enough flair and memorable moments (including an eye-watering moment where he has to stop a ship being ported from rolling over).

    There's some splendid action and some intriguing politicking, but it's the frigid atmosphere (turning more clement as our characters journey south and off the edge of the map) and the relentless pace that make this novel so successful, and more enjoyable than its forebear. Abercrombie is still working with a shorter word count than normal here and it helps maintain focus and drive. This is a 400-page novel where the pages fly by. Abercrombie is also upping his game with his prose, with some darkly delicious dialogue and more poetical moments peppering his more traditional style of black humour. Even the worldbuilding is taken up a notch, with the idea that the Shattered Sea might be a far future, post-apocalyptic part of our world developed further.

    Half the World (****) is a resounding success and an improvement on Half a King on almost every front. It will be released on 12 February 2015 in the UK and five days later in the USA. Highly recommended.

  10. #10
    @PeteMC666 PeteMC's Avatar
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    Supresses envy of you and your ARC...

    Sounds good, definitely on the "must buy" list.

  11. #11
    Half a King is the first of a trilogy?
    I am maybe a third into it. My impression is that, compared to his other books, it is lighter and almost YA. (to be clear - I am not saying it is YA or light fantasy - I am just comparing it to the other books)
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    I wonder if there will be any "magic". I was going to say no sign of it yet but maybe the birds.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by cgw View Post
    Half a King is the first of a trilogy?
    I am maybe a third into it. My impression is that, compared to his other books, it is lighter and almost YA.
    It was written specifically as YA, so it's logical that it reads as YA. ;-)

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Contrarius View Post
    It was written specifically as YA, so it's logical that it reads as YA. ;-)
    There you go. That certainly explains it.
    From that point of view then - it doesn't really read like a YA (my definition of YA)(I consider this a compliment and refreshing for a YA book). I'll reserve further judgment until I finish it.

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