Yarvi, second son of the feared King Uthrik and the ruthless Queen Laithlin of Gettland, was born with a useless hand, and cannot hold a shield, or make fast a knot, or pull an oar, or do any of the things expected from a man. Left an outcast, he's surrendered his birthright and been given a woman's place as apprentice to Mother Gundring, Gettland's Minister, training to be an adviser, diplomat, healer and translator.
But when his father and brother are murdered by Grom-gil-Gorm, King of neighboring Vansterland, Yarvi is forced to take the Black Chair and become king himself - or half a king, at least - swear an oath of vengeance against the killers of his father, and lead a raid against the Vanstermen. Betrayed, left for dead, and enslaved on a rotting trading galley, Yarvi will need all his Minister's wit and cunning to escape, and all his diplomacy and knowledge to keep a rag-tag band of other slaves together on a month long trek across the frozen wastes of the utmost north. Among them are Sumael, the ship's single-minded navigator, Rulf, an ex-raide, Jaud, an ex-baker, and Nothing, a mad old man with a mysterious past and an almost magical skill with a sword. And their owner, the brutal Captain Shadikshirram, will be dogging their heels at every step. Father Peace may be the patron god of Ministers, but to reclaim the Black Chair, Yarvi will have to strike a deal with Mother War, and once you've invited the mother of crows to be your guest, there can be no telling whose blood will be spilled.
©2014 Joe Abercrombie (P)2014 Recorded Books
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving or riding my bike.
Perhaps Joe Abercrombie is a little weary of seeing the word "gritty" attached to his name in every other review, however accurate it may be. But formulaic is not an alternative to gritty; it's just...formulaic. Most of this book you have read before. Admittedly Abercrombie does it at least as well and mostly better than others, but it is impossible not to sigh and wonder why he decided to attend the party without his best clothes on. Still, reweaving old threads into a costume which is perhaps somewhat more stylish than the original demonstrates skill, albeit little inspiration. Less wise was his impulse to rework a peerless piece of stitching (a scene from Hamlet) and leave it hanging tattered on the rack. The advice comics give to their peers, "If you are going to steal, steal from the best," is not necessarily good counsel for writers.
All that being said, this is still Abercrombie, and his second or third best work is well worth reading. The ending, in particular, is very well crafted (will we have to wait until a sequel or two have come and gone before we can get you fully back, Joe?), and I was never really bored or confused. I certainly do not regret the credit, though I was also never astonished, never shocked, never terrified, never convulsed with laughter, never deeply moved, never transfixed by an image. Much more tender, much less muddy. But oh how the mighty have fallen. An extra star off for the descent from the heights, I'm afraid.
John Keating does a perfectly creditable job with the narration. Stephen Pacey or Michael Page, as much as I admire them both, would have been poor choices for this wide-eyed, coming of age story. Keating uses a variety of Scots, Irish and English dialects to set and identify the characters, and he only occasionally misses a meaningful inflection. It is strange hearing him read Abercrombie only because this is not the JA we are all used to.
I'm a long time fan of Joe Abercrombie. I've read every one of his books except for the Shattered Seas trilogy, which I held off on so I didn't have to wait between volumes. Well, now I'm here, and after finishing the Half a King audiobook, I have to say I loved the story but hated the narrator.
Like every Abercrombie book, the prose is sharp and witty, the action intense, and there's no a shortage of quotable lines. But prose aside, I think most people come back to Abercrombie for his realistic plot lines and brutally honest themes. There's no such thing as a Mary Sue in Abercrombie's works. Most "heroes" act according to their motivations instead of generalized stereotypical morals and are almost always forced to find unpredictable (and often humorously awkward) solutions to obstacles. Abercrombie's stories are real life wrapped in a fantasy setting. And in this case it's a bloody, Viking-like setting.
But I'm sure most people already know it can get gritty in an Abercrombie book. I think that's what his fans actually want. But it's this fact that brings me to my issue with the audiobook. Let me be clear, the story itself is great, but the narrator, while not being bad in the sense of narration, is completely mismatched for the overall tone. For example, many of the characters are gruff, battle-worn creatures who value steel over diplomacy and would cut a man's throat in no time flat to be rid of their shackles. It was because of this that I was seriously distracted to hear the narrator babble on in one of the highest, most squeaky voices I've heard in the any of the many audiobooks I've listened to.
This narrator should be narrating children's books, not Abercrombie books. I don't know, maybe it's because this book was marketed as YA initially, but it completely distracted me from the despair I should have been feeling as I put myself in the shoes of a crippled young slave who was forced to row with one half-missing hand while being whipped in the back. Now before I scare you away, the book is also funny, and has many heartwarming moments. But lets be honest, Abercrombie isn't the master of "Grimdark" for nothing.
For me it boils down to this: You wouldn't cast Hugh Grant to play The Mountain in Game of Thrones, right? Well that's what it felt like to me hearing John Keating narrate this book.
And to make matters worse, Keating narrates all three U.S. version books! Obviously I'll just read the physical books, but it would have been nice to hear these stories narrated by a properly chosen narrator.
And if you want to hear a narrator that nails the Viking-like tone (and I would kill to hear him narrate an Abercrombie book), listen to Richard Armitage in Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell. Here's an excerpt: https://youtu.be/494Kqxhdczs
I would not change anything about the writing. I would change the narrator.
I made it to chapter 7 and just couldn't take the narrator anymore.
My irritation went beyond my limits of endurance for several reasons: 1) narrator used the same voice for the main character and the non-character narration; 2) he also had a habit of reading some statements as if they were questions (he did this most often with the female voices); 3) and most irritating of all he gave one of the elder female characters a sing-song lilting voice that after a while became very distracting as the way her words were read did not match how I think the author intended her to be saying them. It was evident from the writing that she is a wise character yet the voice given by the narrator made her sound flighty.
Pretty much anyone else. I can tell John Keating has talent with voices. However, I have never listened to anything he has read other than this book. Therefore I do not know if this is just a matter of his (or the producers) not choosing the correct candence.
I enjoyed the story enough that I am willing to purchase the kindle edition and read it. That is saying a lot since I prefer listening to audiobooks now that I have some issues with my eyes.
I have read from others that this is young adult and I am not a fan of young adult fantasy, but I am looking forward to see how Joe Abercrombie presents a less gritty tale. My question.... Is it really young adult or is it just very light in the grit. Already I could see depth to the characters and the story that I do not usually find in the young adult fantasy that I purchas by mistake (because they are not labeled as young adult by Audible)
If readers are making that determination based on the audiobook I could definitely see how the narrator, with his over the top fairytale voices, could lend to a young adult feel.
John Keating hardly changed his voice or delivery for most of the characters in this book, making it really difficult to tell who was saying any given line.
Maybe it's unfortunate that Joe Abercrombie set the bar so high with his previous books, but this was a woeful anticlimax. Having come to expect masterly character development I found these characters rather weak, not believable in the same way as Glokta and the Bloody Nine.
Perhaps my review could have gained another star had the narrator been Steven Pacey, but this reader was not into the story in the same way.
I love Joe Abercrombie books and have read them repeatedly, but to my great disappointment the narrator made this one very hard to get through. His voice is one note and does not provide a good character depth. The story itself was a very good one and I would like to eventually read again, but not through the same means.
I'm a teacher and a 30 year reader of genre fiction. Urban and Epic fantasy are my main jams.
To Everyone Who Hates or is Disappointed in This Book Because It's Not A Depressing Slog That Includes The Loss of a Major Appendage,
You aren't impressing anyone. This isn't the next book set in The First Law's world, but it's fine. Engaging and sweet, cliche at times but still solid. It's short and to the point and I'm curious about what's next. For a YA book. that's enough.
A trilogy. Say it in three. Done.
Loved this story! (But I abandoned the confusing, annoying audiobook in favor of text).
I'd rate it PG 13. No overt sex, little or no swearing, but lots of bloody violence and several references to sex, jokes about sex, etc.
It's the first book in this YA / adult trilogy, but it also stands alone, complete, with no cliffhanger. It's dubbed as fantasy, but there are no fantastical elements, just the ruins of ancient Elven towers. It's set in an invented location that feels like Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, with seafaring merchants, slavers, and huge warriors reminiscent of the Vikings. No magic, no demi-gods, no dragons (except those painted on shields and adorning ships).
I love tales like this, where the underdog overcomes betrayal, pain, deprivation and desperation through intelligence, determination, and help from a few loyal — and lowly — friends.
This particular underdog is Yarvi, a 15 or 16-year-old prince with a very sharp mind. He's apprenticed to Mother Gundring, the King's minister / advisor. Because of his deformed left hand, he is considered unfit to train as the king's spare heir, so he's abdicating his position in the royal family and dedicating his life to royal service, learning how to be a minister. He learns languages, histories, cultures, herbal lore, medicines, poisons, etc.
But Yarvi's career plans go awry early in the book.
Despite the treachery, the bloody carnage, and some heartbreaking losses, this is a feel-good fantasy, not terribly bleak or endlessly grim-dark. There are lots of action-packed adventure and survival scenes, which I quite enjoyed. It was good to see Yarvi toughen up and come into his own. I smiled several times while reading this book. Grinned at the timing for the witty aphorisms (teachings, proverbs, sayings, etc). The slave named Nothing is delightful. His character continually entertained, but only mildly, and fairly dryly.
The story is grim but quite heartwarming, as a group of desperate fugitives bond together and become family. I particularly loved Jaud. I disliked a few decisions Yarvi made, but so did his comrades, and he regretted his forced choices, so I forgave him.
Quibbles: The story is fairly predictable.
Characters: Yarvi, his mother Queen Laithlin and her ever-present bodyguard Hurik, his father King Uthrik and his Minister Mother Gundring, his Uncle Odem, his fiancée Isriun. Also, a ship's captain named Shadikshirram, her overseer Trigg, her stores-keeper Ankran, her navigator Sumael, her enslaved oarsmen Jaud and Rulf, and her enslaved scrubber, dubbed Nothing. Also, the king of the Vanstermen, Grom-gil-Gorm, and his Minister, Mother Scaer. Also, the High King and his Minister, Grandmother Wexen.
My taste differs from kid books to gory horror books.
YOU CANNOT EXPECT ALL HEROES TO SURVIVE A GOOD SONG
This is way different then any other book Joe has written. I believe it is meant to be a YA novel. Less violence, no sex and not as dark. I still enjoyed the writing, the wit and the humor.
YOU MAY NEED TWO HANDS TO FIGHT SOMEONE, BUT ONLY ONE TO STAB THEM IN THE BACK.
If you don't read this through to the end you might think it was FORMULAIC or if you are only listening with one ear. Those who listen with both ears, will hear the truths embedded in this story. The truths about friendships or lack of, about ambition, about the people and about the Rulers. A MINISTER NEVER SAYS NO, IF THEY CAN SAY PERHAPS. This is a good book for Teens to read. It does not include the usual happy ending, elves, magic or everything always works out best for those who deserve it that they get in other books. Abercrombie includes in this YA book, the lessons he teaches in his adult novels without all the blood and gore and that is that life is rough and does not always turn out roses and sunshine.
STRANGE HOW QUICKLY A KING CAN TURN INTO AN ANIMAL
I like any book that shows Kings and Queens for what they truly are. The biggest bullies around. I also like a book that has not so perfect main characters. At first Yarvi seems to be a whinny baby about his hand (as would be expected from a member of royalty). The common man would figure out how to compensate for this deformity. With the lack of medical care and the hard life they lived, most common people would have some sort of handicap. A king to be would probably be a whinny baby. I also like a book that has some surprising twists and turns and this has plenty.
THE LAST DOOR OPENS FOR YOU
As many others have mentioned this narrator sucks. One reviewer put it best when he said he has only one note. One Note Keating. After having trouble telling characters apart and realizing that lots of the humor was sucked out by this narrator, I put him on fast speed. I found I could tell the characters apart better this way. After an hour or two of this I went back to regular speed and found that now that I knew the characters better I could tell them apart despite One Note Keating. His sad performance lowers the overall experience of this book, buy the hard cover. I will not listen to the next book, since One Note is screwing that one up also.
No one. The performance is terrible. Mumbled words, falsetto's and so on. I love the author and story, but for the first time, I could not listen fully to one of his books. It required too much work to follow what the reader was saying.
Almost everything. Annoying performance.
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