Joe Abercrombie has a reputation for descriptive dark fantasy with gruesome battles and oppressive tone. I did not find that to be true in the case of Half a King, his first young adult novel and first in the Shattered Sea Triology. Yarvi, our titular hero, was born as second son to the king of Gettland and with only a partial left hand. His chosen path is to forsake his claim to land and title and become a Minister devoting his life to study of language, culture and herbology. Fate intercedes and Yarvi is named King of Gettland which, it seems, no one is happy about. The events which follow do involve brutal conditions, battles and deaths, but through Yarvi’s optimistic point of view we seem to rise above the worst of it. He is honest about his faults and abilities and chooses to make the most of the opportunities which present themselves – focused on surviving each moment in succession, but keeping his goals and his oath as his guide. The band of misfits Yarvi collects on his journey are a well written, diverse group which I hope will factor into future novels in the series. I enjoyed each of their perspectives and the color and meaning they contributed to the story.
I was somewhat disappointed that several plot and character moments were so obviously telegraphed, but revealed as if they were plot twists. It is a pet peeve of mine for the reader to be smarter than or ahead of the narrator. Young adult novels do not need to pander to their audience or treat them as less sophisticated, simply focus on issues and perspectives which relate to the age group. This is something both John Green and Pierce Brown were able to do in their stories and found that audiences (young and old) responded.