Half a King - Joe Abercrombie

I just finished this today and I'm sitting here slightly stunned. It's been a long, long time since I read something so packed with betrayal, violence, and dramatic plot twists which is also written by someone who draws vivid characters, creates a whole new mythology and has an ear for language and rhythm that lifts his prose almost into a song at times.


The plot of "Half A King", at least as it was described by the publishers, sounded like "Game of Thrones" without the dragons and the nudity. I didn't find that encouraging. I never got past the third chapter of the first "Game of Thrones" book, I listened to a sample of "Half A King" found it well-written and narrated and decided to give it try.


I was gripped from the first page, not so much by the plot as by the tone and pace of the thing: unhurried but focused, like a performer at the beginning of a contemporary ballet, full of controlled energy and potential passion.


Fortunately for me, I had a long commute this week, a round trip drive of nearly 700 miles, during which I could listen to "Half A King". I drank it in: a strange future world, fallen back into feudalism, murder and intrigue at court, a crippled prince unexpectedly becoming a king.


I thought to myself, "Ah, I know where this goes but I'll listen because I'm enjoying the ride". I did enjoy the ride but it turned out that I had no idea where the book was going. After the first plot twist, the ground my complacency was standing on fell away and I tumbled into the unexpected. Then it happened again. And again. And each time without me feeling cheater or tricked. It was more like opening one of those Matryoshka dolls from Russia and finding another doll within and then another within that.


"Half A King" is filled with violence, cruelty, death, betrayal, slavery and, above all, revenge. Yet it does not glory in these things but rather wades through them with the grim determination of someone who's only safe path is through the midden. What it rejoices at is freedom and courage and loyalty, if only because they are so rare.


This was my first Joe Abercrombie book. It won't be my last. Read it, preferably when you can give yourself up to it and let real life fade.