Yarvi is young man training to become a minister, a most revered position in the Shattered Sea. A self-professed (and professed by everyone else) cripple with one slightly good hand, it is a vocation more fitting than that of his family business. He can contribute to the world with his intelligence. But right before he is to take the minister's test, his father and brother are killed, leaving Yarvi obligated to claim his birthright as King of Gettland.
His mother, Laithlin, has already set her son's coronation in motion. Her husband and eldest son must be avenged. Her youngest is to marry his cousin Isriun, daughter of his uncle (and most supportive and trusted relative) Odem and bring stability to the Black Chair. Yarvi makes a vow to make the killer of his family pay in blood. He is to lead his men (despite his physical shortcomings) into battle against the King of the Vanstermen, Grom-gil-Gorm, a truly heinous being. Despite rarely showing Yarvi much in the way of tenderness, Laithlin confides in her personal, trusted guard Hurik to watch over him and keep him safe.
Upon laying waste to G-g-G's non-combatants, Yarvi begins to question the motive of this war. Farmers were hardly responsible for the King's demise, the new King surmises. Even one who is woefully underskilled in the ways of fighting recognizes this. Why would they not take the fight to Grom-gil-Gorm directly? Because Odem has his own plan and this battle is merely the means to achieve his ultimate goal. Despite his affection for his nephew, he is but one heir away from the Black Chair. Partly because he (and seemingly everyone else) believes that Gettland deserves more than a gimp for a ruler, and also his own ambition, he has concocted this skirmish as a convenient disposal spot of his final obstacle to the throne.
Treachery exposed, loyalists are murdered and Yarvi is sent plummeting into the wrath of Mother Sea as Hurik makes no attempt to save him. Convinced that the young, weak, now ex-King could not have survived the fall. Odem and his men return to Gettland with mission accomplished. Only, somehow, Yarvi has survived. Before long, he comes face to face with his father and brother's killer. Not knowing who Yarvi is, he sells the rightful King of Gettland into slavery. It is here where the previously sheltered royal's adventure begins.
“Half a King”, the first in a new series by Joe Abercrombie (“The First Law” trilogy) called "Shattered Sea", is a book that starts off exciting but falls into a lull quickly. That lull lasts for a while with sprinklings of action. Yarvi is supposed to be a sympathetic character because of his deformity and the betrayal of his uncle. However, his constant self-loathing and self-pity makes him difficult to root for. If Maximus would have constantly been harping on his family's death in “Gladiator”, it would have been understandable. But he didn't. Yarvi does little more than snivel. He's nice and all, but not of much use outside of diplomacy and negotiation. It's as if he wants to believe everything his father said about him, that he had every right to be ashamed of Yarvi. His companions he meets in the second act are for more likable characters. That is, until the final act. My god, that final act.
Abercrombie writes a coming-of-age yarn that starts quick, burns slow, and explodes in incendiary blasts in the home stretch. A race to find out who's loyalty is misplaced and who will reign upon the Black Chair.
"Half a King" arrives in stores on Jul 15 from Del Rey Books.