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Originally published Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 6:05 AM

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‘Half a King’: treachery in a medieval fantasy land

Joe Abercrombie’s new novel, “Half a King,” is a grim and gritty fantasy of a young medieval ruler’s betrayal and his quest for vengeance and punishment for the traitors.


Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Joe Abercrombie

The author of “Half a King” will appear at 7 p.m. Wednesday July 23 at the University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E. Free (206-634-3400; ubookstore.com).

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‘Half a King’

by Joe Abercrombie

Del Rey, 352 pp., $26

“Grimdark” refers to a kind of story arising from the worlds of online gaming and self-published fan fiction. It’s now a fantasy subgenre appealing not only to gamers — young and old, female and male — and fans of pop-culture figures, but to the same people who glory in the gloomy fatalism of TV’s “Game of Thrones” series. As they added gorily realistic details like the stench of gut wounds to pseudo-medieval tales of wizards and axe-wielding dwarves, emerging professional authors such as Joe Abercrombie gradually became associated with the term. “Half a King,” best-seller Abercrombie’s latest novel, embraces the grittiness of life in feudal times with a literal vengeance: King Yarvi, newly crowned monarch of Gettland, finds himself betrayed during his first battle and swears to kill his betrayers.

Yarvi’s an unlikely ruler: discounted at birth as a cripple due to his fingerless left hand, he trains himself to be a seer and herbalist. His ambition is to serve his older brother as a royal adviser. When he inherits Gettland’s throne after his brother’s and father’s simultaneous murders, it’s hardly a surprise that he’s almost immediately ousted from it.

Yarvi’s subsequent journey through layers of treachery is well written, and Abercrombie cleverly avoids taking him along the paths trodden by stereotypical disabled heroes. Whether depicting the ritual firing of a treasure-laden funeral ship or the grueling daily grind of Yarvi’s stint as a galley slave, the author’s economical voice gives a clear and unsentimental account of events sordid, beautiful, or, often, a blend of the two. Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea is a fantastic yet believable backdrop to Yarvi’s struggle, a vivid imaginary land to which both habitual and newly minted grimdark readers will happily return for “Half a King’s” projected sequels.

Nisi Shawl reviews science fiction and fantasy for The Seattle Times.



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