"'Oh I'm forever swearing oaths: I hardly know which ones to honor'"
Prince Yarvi is the youngest son of a powerful warmonger king. What's worse, he was born crippled, with half a hand. Yarvi is a disappointment to his family, his country, and himself. And he's just been crowned. Instead of sitting the Black Chair and celebrating his betrothal, he makes a vow to avenge his father and brother.
Over the course of the book he acquires some unlikely companions, all of whom are amazing. There's the former guard, the mysterious swordsman, and the action girl that we've seen from countless other fantasy novels, but they all have depth and twists to keep them from being stock characters.
Half a King is a classic revenge tale, with shades of The Count of Monte Cristo, but it's also a fascinating character study in growth and coming of age. Yarvi from chapter one to the final pages is almost unrecognizable, yet in a brilliant stroke of writing, you'll find a lot of parallels from the first chapters in the last.
I'm loathe to reveal much of the plot, as there are some big twists, so what I really want to focus on and praise is Abercrombie's writing. The world building is fascinating, evoking Vikings and barbarians, but with very different religious influence. I would love to know why he decided to flip the traditional script and build almost a matriarchal institution with Mother War and Father Peace, Mother Sun and Father Moon. While the leaders are men, women wield terrific political power as both treasurer and chief advisers to the kings. I'm also very interested in the glimpses of the long dead Elf race, because(view spoiler)
If I have one complaint, it's the book's size. For epic fantasy, it's pretty short and that does show in Yarvi and the companion's journey through the winter tundra. It's a very tense time that's supposed to be a struggle for survival, but because of the time devoted to the journey, I never felt the party's desperation. I wish there had even been one more chapter to ramp up the tension and make me feel the danger. Beyond that, I can't find fault.
I've been a fan of the idea of Joe Abercrombie for a long time. I always want to like his books more than I end up enjoying them. He's always been missing one element that would really cause me to connect with his characters. With Half a King, he's made a true believer of me. It's a master work and probably the fantasy novel of the year.