Aug

24

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

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Abercrombie’s world is usually full of swearing, sex and violence. Now the thought of Abercrombie doing a YA book gave everyone pause. Can he do YA? What would it be like? Abercrombie without swearing, sex and minimal violence? Can it be so?

Prince Yarvi is studying to become a minister; an adviser, historian, intellect and healer (think Maesters from A Song of Ice and Fire). Yet, once you become one, you renounce all family ties and inheritance. Days before Yarvi is to become a minister, his Uncle rushes into his study and announces that his father and brother are dead, murdered by their sworn enemy, and that Prince Yarvi is now King Yarvi.

King Yarvi is in shock, never in his life did he want this. He wanted to be a minister. How could a king run a kingdom with only one hand? How can he avenge his father with one hand? How could half a king do it? Yet do it he does. He swears an oath and gathers an army, marches forward even though he can barely swing a sword and his crippled arm cannot even hold a shield. What will his followers think of him?

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was light and fun. The best thing about it were the plot twists. There were many and some you just do not see coming. The twists and turns will keep you turning the pages. Yarvi is a likable character, you don’t ever feel sorry for him (not like Fitz in a Hobb book) but you do want him to succeed.

It definitely feels like an Abercrombie book but because I know what Abercrombie is capable of, I felt this was a watered down version of what he could produce. More detail in the fight scenes would have been great for my unimaginative mind. There are some story line quirks that I thought were off and were never explained but none of them deterred from the overall story.

You could call this a YA book because the protagonist is kind of young, but really, it’s an Abercrombie book with toned down violence, no sex and all but one swear word (at least that’s all I spotted). If someone wanted a YA book, this would not be the first book I would recommend, however, if someone said, “I want an entry level fantasy book”, this might be one of my first suggestions from now on.

Again, damn me for starting an unfinished series!

— (another review below) —

When I first heard Joe Abercrombie was writing a YA novel, I waited patiently for the punchline. When finally assured this wasn’t a joke, i found myself intrigued to see whether Fantasy writings answer to Tarantino would be able to pull this off and can safely report that while Half a King may not be as good as some of his previous works, it certainly pulls no punches for his younger intended audience.

Half a King is Abercrombie’s first foray in writing a YA story as well as his first novel outside his widely popular Circle of the World setting. The first in The Shattered Seas trilogy, Half a King tells the story of Prince Yarvi, a young man despised by his father as a weakly due to a deformity at birth that has left him with only half a hand. Yarvi’s soft nature seems well suited to a religious life in the Ministry but the untimely death of both his father and brother means he is thrust onto the Black Chair as King of Gettland.

Unfortunately kingship fits him as well as a glove on his mangled hand. But you never know what you’ll miss until you no longer have it. Vowing to avenge his father and brother Yarvi seeks out to wreak vengence on those who killed them, but he in turn is betayed. Sold into slavery Yarvi finds he must find his inner strength so that one day he will be able to take down those that betrayed him.

What follows is a coming of age-type story where Yarvi bands together an unlikely crew of slaves to assist him in his quest for vengeance. There’s plenty of the tropes you’d expect from a YA fantasy novel but Abercrombie manages to weave his story around them and still manages to keep his characters sufficiently morally grey that they easily blend into the story and somehow become less noticeable. And I imagine when viewed through a younger person’s lens these misgivings are probably not even as issue.

If you’re not expecting depth of character or story line then Half a King will deliver for you a very quick enjoyable read. At around 350 pages, this is a much smaller book then his other novels and most probably a lot more in line with what a YA novel should be. There’s plenty of plot twists, a cast of likable characters and the characteristic Abercrombie humour interspersed throughout the novel which makes this good reading fare. And say one thing for Mr Abercromie, he still is the best finisher of stories going around in fantasy currently.

Overall, I found this to be an uneven read in terms of quality, but have faith that the follow up book, Half a World, will build upon the solid platform laid down by Half a King and continue to reward readers and Abercrombie’s vast legion of Grimdark fans.

 

Review by Antoxx

 



Aug

8

Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

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With the success of The Broken Empire, Mark Lawerence’s first delve into fantasy, it was not a surprise to see him quickly produce another series in the same world. Prince of Fools is the first book in the Red Queen’s War series which details Jalan Kendeth, a prince of Red March but 10th in line to the throne.

Jalan is a womaniser, a compulsive gambler, lair and a coward, all traits that would be terrible on anyone else but a prince of Red March. Yet, due to his own greed and misfortune, a magical aura struck upon him and an unsuspecting Norse man, Snorri ver Snagason. This aura compels them to always be together, an unease fills them when they are a part, and it also compels them to head north, to the icy wastelands of the Bitter Ice.

One of my first thoughts when I heard about Prince of Fools was “oh no” because it was set in the Broken Empire. I like my authors to be a little bolder and branch out, but as I read the book, most of my concerns dissipated.

Again, it is written in first person but instead of a brooding, psychotic, physical specimen of a man anti-hero, we get a humorous, sex hungry, pragmatic, coward of an anti-hero. I instantly liked the first few paragraphs and wondered how Lawerence would interweave the Jorg Ancrath story into this one, since it is set in a parallel timeline to Prince of Thorns. What happens is a very plausible and funny outcome.

As story unfolds I found that Lawrence does a great job with developing Jalan and Snorri’s characters, how they both interplay with each other, and how the story telling evolves in the story. I also loved the more traditional fantasy feel of this book. There was barely a hint of technology from the old world.

What I did find was that Lawrence still needs to work on is his combat scenes. I just don’t find these to be quite right. Nothing is unbelievable but I just don’t find they flow or captivate me like most fight scenes in fantasy books do.

Pick up Prince of Fools if you haven’t read anything by Mark Lawrence yet. He definitely is one of the best authors to have come out this decade, and you don’t need to have read his Broken Empire Trilogy.



Aug

6

Review: Children of the Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica

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Child of a Hidden Sea” is A.M. Dellamonica’s third novel, but it is not related to any of her previous work. In this book, people from our world travel to a world where magic exists but the level of technology is less advanced (i.e. steel is unusual). Unlike other books in this genre, it seems that travel between the two worlds is frequent and not especially difficult, which makes for some interesting possibilities in terms of transferring objects back and forth.

Our heroine and POV character is Sophie Hansa, a 24-year-old who doesn’t seem to know what she wants in life. She’s been to college, has completed some grad school, but doesn’t have steady employment. She’s also taken guitar classes, speaks a smattering of a few languages besides English, is interested in sailing and diving, etc. We find out she is adopted and wants to know more about her birth family. Many of the main characters are related in some way to Sophie — her brother Bram, her newly-discovered birth family members (including an aunt, Gale, and a sister, Verena), etc. We also meet the dashingly handsome Garland Parrish, captain of a ship owned by Sophie’s family members, and Tonio, Garland’s first mate.

Sophie is transported to Stormwrack (the name of this alternate world, which is largely water dotted with island nations) accidentally and then returned home a few days later. But, spending a few days there is enough to pique her curiosity. She convinces her sister to take her back to settle an inheritance matter and loads up on fancy camera equipment before returning, determined to document as much as possible. She also brings Bram along the second time. Early on, she witnesses a murder and it falls to her to conduct the investigation (for reasons that are plausible within the world of the story). She has to balance the investigation with her own desire to explore and document.

Overall, Sophie is sympathetic. We can completely understand why she’s hurt when she locates her birth mother and isn’t received with open arms. Further, Sophie has a genuine desire to help people, she cares about her family, and she’s clueless when it comes to the social norms of Stormwrack. It makes her investigation more effective because she can ask the questions that someone from Stormwrack never would. Her position as a foreigner also allows Sophie to serve as a proxy for the reader.

Something I appreciate about this book is that it doesn’t always take the expected path. Revelations about Sophie’s past aren’t what you might expect if you’ve read a lot of other fantasy and are familiar with the genre’s tropes.

I thought the writing style was appropriate. You always have the sense that Sophie is an outsider. She has a curiosity that the natives don’t, she sends text messages and misses the internet and surreptitiously takes video. New terms, new locations, etc. are introduced in such a way that you understand them. Some clothing and some foods are described, but never to excess. The words on the page do a good job of creating a picture in the reader’s head.

I think the one thing I haven’t discussed in depth yet is the magic system. “Scripts” are written spells and can do things like teach someone a language, heal someone, or preserve the freshness of food. Materials are important when it comes to scripts and nations are quite possessive of “their” magical materials. I think I’d like a little more explanation of scripts, but the amount we got in this book was appropriate for a first volume.

Minor quibbles: Steel is hard to find in Stormwrack. However, there are swords. It’s not clear what the swords are made of. Secondly, the more people who have access to a secret, the less of a secret it is. A whole lot of people knew about both worlds and many had either visited the one they were not from or traveled freely back and forth.

In the end, though, there was definitely entertainment value for me. If you liked this aspect of the Thomas Covenant books, “The Barbed Coil” by J.V. Jones, and/or Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Fionavar Tapestry,” it should appeal to you here, although this book was considerably lighter in tone than most of those.┬áMy favorite aspect of the book was the connection between Stormwrack and our world, and the way that Sophie and Bram try to piece this together, and I hope that this gets explored further in future books in the series.

 

Review written by Sneaky Burrito