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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: Half a King

Half a King Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very, very rarely I read a book and I feel lost. This usually happens when reading books from the 1700's, which are full of deceptively solid sentences with secret comma marshes beneath the thin veneer of sense. This keeps me almost humble when it comes to my ability to predict book endings (I predicted the ending to LOTR at age eight... that killed any chance of real humility.)
This was not that sort of book. From page one I knew that I was on solid, familiar ground that was unlikely to bend, let alone give. Every character had their usual fantasy-novel place, each moment foreshadowed its proper bit in the ending, and nothing at all took me by surprise. It was just a fantasy novel, and it was a well-written and developed one. Nothing fancy here, no attempts at plot twists or morals or any silly things like that. It was fantasy through and through, and while I can't believe it was ever published I'm glad it was.
My one quibble is the whole "Breaking of the World" thing. That's Robert Jordan's. Don't steal from other authors when your own imagination is clearly in fine working order.
Anyway, this book is about a guy named Yarvi who has a crippled left hand. He becomes king. Shockingly, it turns out that someone he trusted actually wants to kill him. So he goes off and becomes a slave, makes some friends, takes revenge, etc. There are a few easily guessable attempts at plot twists. Then the book all nicely and neatly, no sequel attempt in sight, and you're left wondering why you ever wanted originality.
Now, here's the thing: Yarvi's a complete jerk. He has no moral qualms whatsoever. He's sickened by the sight of dead bodies, but that doesn't mean he minds murder- he'd just prefer not to look at the results. A few months as a slave gives him not pause at all when he's looking down and slaves in the same position a few months later (he in fact urges further abuse). And it's incredibly refreshing. Yarvi is exactly what you'd expect him to be from the outlined society. There's no happy ending where everyone realizes that hey, maybe might isn't right and a cripple could be a good king! He doesn't have any thought of ending slavery. Heck, the guy invites a rival king in to slaughter his subjects without a second thought!
So would I want to read similar books? No, they'd be boring and overdone. Am I happy to have read this one? Yes. As always, the well-done overdone cliche I haven't seen in a while beats poorly executed originality. Congratulations, Joe Abercrombie, you can take the prize in "normal predictable fantasy."

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