Half a King

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Half a King Book Poster Image
Gripping fantasy has adventure, intrigue, some gore.

A lot or a little?

Parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Intended to entertain, not educate.

Positive messages

Be patient and wait for your opportunity, but when it presents itself you have to act or it will pass you by.

Positive role models & representations

Yarvi discovers he's capable of much more than anyone, even he himself, thought. He demonstrates kindness and loyalty, even to the lowliest, while enduring tremendous hardship. He learned a lot about a wide range of topics through academic study and applies his knowledge wisely when it's time to act. The large cast of supporting characters model the full range of human behavior and includes the shipmates who become Yarvi's loyal followers, fierce warriors, and duplicitous political enemies.

Violence

A lot of combat and fighting is described in detail, and some of it's gory. A skull split in half is described in some detail. Blood is often mentioned, and though it's not described in detail, it spurts, spatters, streams, etc. Sounds of bones breaking are described a few times, and bloody injuries are described in detail. Hand-to-hand combat includes detailed descriptions of blows, choking, stabbing, and more. The slaughter of two dozen horses is mentioned as part of a king's funeral rite, with a description of the blood washing the deck of a ship.

Sex

Yarvi and Isriun are betrothed, and a brief, light kiss is mentioned. Yarvi holds hands with Sumael and notices his feelings of attraction to her.

Language

Profanity is moderate and includes half a dozen or so each of "arse," "bastard," "bitch," and "damn." "Hell" is used two or three times. "Piss," "turd," "s--t," and "s--ty" are each used once. There's some bathroom humor in a few mentions of farts or farting sounds.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Ship's captain Shadikshirram is almost exclusively depicted drinking wine or mentioned as being drunk or passed out from drinking. Hero Yarvi, whose age is never given and could be a teen or young adult, drinks a few sips of wine once. Adults drinking ale are mentioned once, as is a past incident when King Uthrik (Yarvi's father) was drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Half a King is bestselling fantasy author Joe Abercrombie's first foray into the young adult market. But here the fantasy mostly stems from the imagined, medieval, Nordic-style society and geography; magic and sorcery don't appear at all. There's a lot of violence in this swashbuckling adventure, mostly from fighting with weapons like swords and knives, with some detailed descriptions and gore, including a skull split halfway by an axe. Blood's mentioned a lot, and bloody injuries are also described in some detail. Profanity is moderate, with "s--t" used once but milder words like "arse," "bastard," and "bitch" used half a dozen times each. There's almost no romance, but hero Yarvi does start to notice his feelings of attraction for Sumael. He's a great model for a broad education in the liberal arts, wisely applying what he's learned to a variety of situations he encounters, and he also models strength of character with his kindness, endurance, loyalty, and commitment.

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What's the story?

Yarvi, the king's second son, was born with one deformed hand. Because his family always makes him feel useless physically, he decides to concentrate on his studies so that he can one day become minister to the king. But the throne is thrust upon him when his father and older brother are killed. Little can he imagine how his solemn oath to avenge their deaths will lead him from the heights of the throne to the depths of slavery and despair. If he can make his way back home, can he prove he's more than half a king?

Is it any good?

Best-selling fantasy author Joe Abercrombie's YA debut scores on all fronts: swashbuckling adventure, political intrigue, fearsome enemies, and a compelling hero navigating a richly imagined world. Fans of his adult fiction will find simplified but not dumbed-down language, and may be surprised by the absence of magic or sorcery. But they'll be glad to find Abercrombie's talent for vividly realized landscapes and a large cast of colorful supporting characters intact.

Tweens and teens who can handle a bit of gore will learn, as Yarvi does, that even someone who wasn't expected to amount to anything can achieve great things, and they'll really root for him as he strives to find his rightful place in the world

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why fantasy books are so popular.  Why do we find them so entertaining?

  • Would Yarvi make a good king, or do you think he would be a better minister (which is what he studied to be)? What characteristics would make a good ruler or a weak one?

  • In this society, power is pretty evenly distributed between men and women. How does the author show this? What gods do the people worship? Do men and women both have political power?

Book details

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