Once, after his father had hit him in a rage, Yarvi's mother had found him crying. The fool strikes, she had said. The wise man smiles, and watches, and learns. Then strikes.
Half a King is the kind of book that creeps up on you gradually, painting a picture of kingdoms and slavery and backstabbing until you think this is basically another fantasy set in the comfort zone of the genre, and then it hits you hard when you least expect it. I kid you not, there were three huge "twists" in this book and I remained completely oblivious to all of them until they were upon me. It is the first twist (a few chapters in) that sucks you into this story... and I found myself unable to stop reading from then on.
I'm really picky when it comes to traditional fantasy (as opposed to urban fantasy or fairytale retellings) because I find it falls into one of two extremes - either it is too lengthy, dense and wordy for my tastes, or it is "fantasy-lite" masquerading as real fantasy whilst really being all about that boy with the tortured soul. This is neither of those. It is a gritty and fast-paced tale of survival, betrayal and friendship. I started reading this in my back garden under the hot afternoon sun and I was so addicted to Yarvi's story that I was still there when the sun began to set.
The story opens when Yarvi - the king's youngest son and the not-so-proud owner of a crippled hand - finds out his father and brother have been killed and he must take his rightful place on the throne. Everyone is skeptical as to whether a crippled "half-king" can really rule over the people of Gettland, even Yarvi himself. I won't give away spoilers, but Yarvi's life takes a rapid turn downhill from there and plunges him into one threatening situation after another. Circumstances see him being forced miles away from his home, barely able to defend himself with his crippled hand.
It's a real underdog kind of story and Yarvi is a complex character that simultaneously evokes sympathy and is allowed to make mistakes, do horrible things and screw people over to survive. He is one of those flawed but likable characters whose actions, even at his worst, feel understandable and realistic. He constantly faces threats from all sides, whilst also battling with nature's demons out in the wilderness. And I swear I could feel the icy cold coming through even in the middle of July - Abercrombie works setting and atmosphere together very well.
Despite my love for Yarvi, this book wouldn't have been the same without the varied and interesting cast of secondary characters. They all provide something important to the novel, whether it be the underlying theme of friendship and finding a place as an outcast that features heavily throughout the story, or some much-needed moments of comic relief. The character Nothing especially made me laugh:
Nothing smiled. Yarvi was starting to get nervous when Nothing smiled. "And they will come ashore, tired and wet and foolish, just as we have, and we will fall upon them." "Fall upon them?" said Yarvi. "We six?" asked Ankran. "Against their twenty?" muttered Jaud. "With a one-handed boy, a woman and a storekeeper among us?" said Rulf. "Exactly!" Nothing smiled wider. "You think just as I do!"
He saw Nothing hop a few steps from the bank and raise his sword high, point downwards. "Are you mad?" Yarvi screeched, before he realized. Of course he was.
And even though women are not often sword-wielding warriors in this world, Abercrombie's female characters were fantastic, in my opinion. They were strong but flawed, deeply complex and varied. Those considered "good" had faults and those considered villains had multiple layers to them. Though this could really be said for all characters. There are no mindless villains in this book and it makes the story all the more compelling, because the author doesn't make it easy for us to group people into "goodies" and "baddies". As Rulf says:
"If life has taught me one thing, it's that there are no villains. Only people, doing their best."
Plus - the ending was PERFECT. I wasn't sure how the author would tie it all together and still leave us with something that would make me need to get my hands on the sequel - but he did. The novel's climax is an incredible show of drama and excitement, followed by a couple of gentle, quiet - but no less effective - chapters, in which Abercrombie surprised me once again. I now need to go find everything else he has written and, if you haven't already, you need to read this book.
1) This story is wonderful. 2) It has nothing to do with the Grisha trilogy. 3) I don't particularly like the Grisha trilogy - first one was okay but the second was disappointing, IMO. Haven't read the third. 4) This is a little folk tale about a fox who survives by outsmarting others - but has he finally met his match? 5) It's just the right amount of dark. 6) Just read it. You don't even have to spend anything :)(less)
This is like The Parent Trap, if it was set in the Middle East and had a nice big side order of instalove.
And let me tell you, I tried so bloody hard...moreThis is like The Parent Trap, if it was set in the Middle East and had a nice big side order of instalove.
And let me tell you, I tried so bloody hard to love this book. I was hoping The Fire Wish would make waves in Young Adult and perhaps - if we were really lucky - pave the way for an influx of exciting, non-western, non-white, YA fantasy. I mean, this is set in the Middle East. I don't even know any other fantasies that are set in the Middle East. The potential for this book was huge - a brand new setting to explore different kinds of mythology and culture; the ability to use a setting which will be incredibly foreign to most of the book's readers - and the power to use this untapped landscape to tell a very different kind of story. This book could have been so unique.
It started well, hence the extra star in the rating. Lough sets the scene beautifully and had me staring at the pages like the glittery-eyed tourist I so totally am.
A cavern, as huge as a mountain turned inside out, curved up around me. A waterfall fell from a gap in the Cavern wall and poured into a canal that ended at a bubbling, flashing lake. Fire twisted in the air above the dark water. In every direction, thousands of tiny homes dotted the cavern’s sides, each lit with lamps. The jinni kingdom glittered.
Are you captivated? So was I.
My knowledge of Jinni mythology is virtually non-existent so I was hooked and ready to discover more about this exciting world. To tell you a bit about the story, it is set between two worlds - that of the "real" world in Baghdad and that of the Jinni kingdom. In this story, the Jinni are at war with the humans and things are becoming increasingly heated. The humans believe the Jinni are evil, soulless creatures and the Jinni have been terrorized by humans for centuries. Into this world, come our protagonists - Najwa and Zayele. The former is a Jinni spy, sent to observe Prince Kamal. The latter is a sixteen-year-old human girl who is being forced into an arranged marriage with the Prince. In a chance encounter, Zayele is able to touch Najwa and demand a wish - a wish that sees the two girls switching places and experiencing the other's life.
I found the premise of this book really interesting: the war between the humans and the Jinni, the way each girl would have to adapt to the life they'd been thrown into, the fear that they may be found out... but the reality was quite different.
There is no excitement, no tension, surrounding the possibility of a devastating war between the humans and Jinni. There is no mystery, no suspense, no reveals I couldn't guess a hundred pages before. I was never scared that they might be discovered. I was, however, annoyed at Najwa's weakness and stupidity, irritated by Zayele being a complete bitch to almost every other girl she meets - frankly, I would call her behaviour at some parts of the book nothing short of bullying - and so uninterested in the instaromance that I almost fell asleep halfway through.
Once the excitement of the new kind of setting and the Jinni wears off, this book becomes about Najwa and Zayele both falling for the men the other was supposed to be with. The literal instalove of Zayele and Atish's relationship was the most nauseating - even though Zayele looks the same as Najwa, Atish suddenly looks at her with love for the first time (on the first day that they meet). Najwa's romance with Kamal is slightly less annoying, but it still becomes the focus of Najwa's chapters. She constantly wonders about Mr Hot Stuff, then is annoyed at herself for thinking about it. She gets deep inner knowledge from looking into his eyes when they've known each other less than a week. It's not just that this book became all about romance, it became all about two crappy romances that I didn't care about.
It got to a point where I ran out of excuses for this book. I kept trying to tell myself that I liked it more than I did because, damn, I wanted to! It was just about a month ago that I was sat in my college class called "The Making of Modern South Asia" and I said to my friend: "Wouldn't it be cool if someone wrote a really good fantasy and set it in the Middle East or India?"... It would be cool. I'm still waiting for it.
I'm glad I didn't pass this book up, despite the lack of emotional development and some of the questionable world-build...more
Fantasy-lite. But a lot of fun!
I'm glad I didn't pass this book up, despite the lack of emotional development and some of the questionable world-building. The Ring and The Crown is my first read by de la Cruz but it seems she has a talent for writing lighthearted, fluffy and entertaining stories. Reading this was a bit like reading a gossip magazine - full of the scandals, relationships and drama of the celebrities aristocracy. It won't change your life, you won't get a new philosophical perspective, but it is a fast-paced, entertaining novel that held my attention from start to finish. Oh, and there's also a few dashes of magic now and then.
As is common with traditional fantasy, there's quite a large cast of main characters and the book zips quickly from one point of view to another. Surprisingly, this works really well here and each perspective offers something unique and interesting. The world-building is patchy here and there, but this is not for a lack of trying. The author sets the scene in the prologue - this is an alternate history where the world is dominated by the Franco-British empire and its head controls the world's only source of magic. I had to raise an eyebrow at how quickly the author paints a picture of this unlikely world and expects us to believe it without further details... but, oh well. Into this world comes an array of characters: Princess Marie-Victoria (heir to the throne), Queen Eleanor (her mother), the Head Merlin and his daughter - Aelwyn Myrddn, Prince Leopold, Gill, Ronan and Wolf (to name but a few).
Queen Eleanor has high ambitions for her daughter and intends for her to marry Prince Leopold, but Marie has long been in love with her childhood friend - Gill. Their story isn't the only one of its kind in this novel. In fact, much of the book is about the romancing of the royals and aristocracy; the people they love and don't love but are being forced to marry. It's a whole bunch of romantic silliness that I don't usually care for but found extremely readable and entertaining. I suppose that sometimes this kind of light, undemanding story is exactly what you need. Just don't wander into this expecting hidden depth.
To some extent, though, I am selling this one short. Despite predominantly being a historical fantasy romance, the female characters all get their turn at being badass. Running parallel to the flirtations and sexual tension, is a story about war and magic. And the fate of this world depends on the female main characters (who all have their own strengths). I don't want you to think this is a typical romance where the women care about nothing but the guy's beautiful face, they have bigger concerns too.
Want something deep, complex and meaningful? Go find something else to read. Want something light and entertaining? Then this could very well be the book for you. This will probably appeal to fans of Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes.(less)