It's a new Joe Abercrombie! Huzzah! Bloody action sequences? Check. Someone falling over a cliff into a water-filled ravine? Check. Witty dialogue and complex characterization...? Let's see.
I've read all of Abercrombie's previous books, and this one feels different.
Half a King is the first of Abercrombies books not to be set in his 'First Law' universe. Half a King is set in a brand new Viking-esque land called the Shattered Sea. It's a tale of revenge and coming of age that follows the adventure of a young prince with a crippled hand named Yarvi. Yarvi is suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into Kinghood by the death of his father and brother. He's a weakling-king in a world where men are expected to fight.
Half a King wastes no time plot-wise. Things move forward at an almost alarming rate, with barely a moment of down-time. The plot itself was enjoyable, the familiar themes of a coming of age story were spiced up nicely by some excellent mysteries, twists and betrayals, and the overarching plot was concluded well.
The main thing I felt was missing from this story was the fantastic characterization from previous Abercrombie books. The plot was so heavily action-based that I felt I was missing some the fantastic character dialogue and development I'm so used to.
In Half a King, Abercrombie also reuses a lot of themes and ideas from his previous works. The theme of weakness in a leader echoes the plot arc of Calder (The Heroes) very closely. Shadikshirram, the charismatic and amoral Captain of the South Wind, feels like a knock-off Nicomo Cosca (Best Served Cold).
The book is a lot less bleak than his previous works, which I believe was the authors intention. Anyone who has struggled with the gritty and brutal nature of Abercrombie's books in the past might find some respite here.
However, the bleak and unforgiving nature of the First Law series was part of why I enjoyed it so much! It taught me about life and made me feel stuff, whilst grinding my face into the mud at the same time.
Half a King is a great novel, solid and well written, but it's written to appeal to a different audience than the First Law novels. Perhaps the two are mutually exclusive, and someone out there will find this to be their favourite Abercombie novel. However, I am not one of these people, and whilst I enjoyed it, I enjoyed Half a King only half as much as any of Abercrombie's previous novels.