Saturday, September 12, 2015

Review: HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie was one of the panelists... one of the best and most interesting panelists... at a Science Fiction and Fantasy convention that I attended this year. After hearing him, I bought HALF A KING, and finally it got to the top of my TBR pile on August 1st, so I took it by train to California where I read it on the outward trip, and --although I had read it-- I brought it back. It's a keeper.

HALF A KING is a page turner, expertly crafted, with a story arc that comes a full circle except that the plot thickens with every degree of curvature. Meanwhile, there are so many reviews that it is not easy to say something original about HALF A KING.

One of its qualities is the amazing, incredibly satisfying, utterly enjoyable "thusness" of the book. That's something a reader may not notice until the very end, which is as it should be. It would be a spoiler to say more, so I won't.

It is a intelligently written book, with nuances that may or may not have been intended to intrigue the thoughtful reader. For instance....

Fourteen- (or possibly fifteen-) year-old Prince Yarvi is the great-grandson of Angulf Clovenfoot, a mighty king known as the "Hammer of the Vanstermen" and is the bullied and scorned, younger son of the great warrior king Uthrik, who was the middle son of Brevaer.

Joe Abercrombie mentions Angulf Clovenfoot three times in "Half A King" by my count. First, from Yarvi's POV during a funeral--a dark moment and a turning point in his life of which he had no control--, second from Yarvi's POV during another dark passage, and finally at a turning point that he discerns and seizes upon, and through the voice of Yarvi's treacherous uncle Odem when Yarvi's ragtag army is massively outnumbered and a turning point is imminent.

Why "Clovenfoot"? Could it be that deformity runs in the family? Is Yarvi's birth defect a congenital abnormality.... perhaps hypophalangism (the congenital absence of one or more phalanges of a digit) ?

If kings in this Viking-like world were respected for winning in hand-to-hand combat, I infer that Angulf could fight very well with "half a foot", but his great grandson could not wield two-handed weapons with "half a hand" and that made all the difference.

It's grossly unfair, of course. 

But, which family? Perhaps his mother's? Joe builds his worlds with a masterfully light touch, but it is suggested that first-cousin marriage is not uncommon in this royal family, and other forms of consanguinuity also, so either or both families may harbor a recessive gene. 

Interesting link about consanguinuity 

Moreover, if the genes are awry in one manifestation, why not in another, such as in defective reasoning? It's a very convenient explanation for pathological behavior... and thus a seeming hero can become a villain, a friend can become a mortal enemy.

Is this an "Underdog" plot? I wonder. Certainly, the hardships and difficulties and rank unfairnesses are piled on to the young and physically handicapped principle character at every stage of his saga and his journey. For those who enjoy categorizing other authors' works (grinning), I recommend Ronald Tobias's "Master Plots" book.

Additionally, as a reader of every word, I was never irritated by repetition. Most authors repeat themselves too much, because they are writing for readers with feeble attention spans, I suspect. I've mentioned that Angulf Clovenfoot was mentioned approximately three times. Another important ingredient in Yarvi's arsenal is mentioned three times, and no more (as I recollect) and I almost missed the second mention.

Finally, since I am an admirer of Survivorman, Les Stroud, and also of the Fat Guys In The Woods.... and wrote a survival-inspired novel of my own (Insufficient Mating Material)... I particularly enjoyed the winter wildeness survival chapter.

Highly recommended:  HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie.

Rowena Cherry  

Online references:

Joe Abercrombie | An Extract from Half a King
Joe Abercrombie
Or half a king, at least. ... tall beside that of Yarvi's uncle Uthil, swallowed in a storm, and his grandfather Brevaer, and his great-grandfather Angulf Clovenfoot.
Half a King(41) .... longer within sight of the howes of my brothers Uthrik and Uthil, the howe of my grandfather Angulf Clovenfoot, hammer of the Vanstermen?”
Читать онлайн Half a King автора Аберкромби Джо - RuLit - Страница 17. ... He sang of Angulf Clovenfoot, Hammer of the Vanstermen, and did not mention ...p100 that the man was his great grandfather.


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