domingo, maio 11, 2014

"Half a King" by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King - Joe Abercrombie
While reading Abercrombie's previous books, I'd always wondered whether he could ever write something without the f-word...? He surely can:

"With a good bloody ending this journey will make a fine song, I think," Nothing held his free arm out, fingers spread, towards the archway through which Shadikshirram and her Banyas would no doubt soon be spilling, fixed on murder.
"A band of brave companions escorting the rightful king of Gettland to his stolen chair! A last stand amidst the elf-ruins of yore! You cannot expect all the heroes to survive a good song, you know."
"He's a damn devil," murmured Sumael, jaw muscles clenching and unclenching as she weighted her hatchet in her hand.
"When you're in hell," murmured Yarvi, "only a devil can point the way out."

(at the end of chapter 26)

As soon as it came to my acquaintance that Abercrombie was writing an YA novel, I felt a chill ran through me. I kept wondering whether what makes Joe Abercrombie so different would survive the transition to YA. Have no fear. Despite being an YA novel, it's still an Abercrombie novel.

I still remember tearing into some of Abercrombie's novels as if there were no tomorrow and that's what I did with "Half a King". I was in some kind of reading frenzy... This was not the time to take my time and savour it, stretching the experience out over weeks. That's actually my preferred way of reading something. But last night, just over one day after I started it, I finally finished. Hot damn, that was good.

At its base, this book is your typical standard medieval fantasy novel. There's a (half a) king, who gathers a group of characters to carry out some task that needs doing. There's a bunch of malcontents (Ankran, Rulf, Jaud), and a swordsman (Nothing), and a clever woman (Sumael). There's vengeance, and past actions casting long shadows over the present. Blah-ba-blah-blah-blah. But, as always, the proof is in the execution. And in "Half a King", the execution is nothing short of brilliant. Even taking into account that this is a YA novel.

Abercrombie makes himself comfortable in the classical tropes of the fantasy millieu. I can picture him leaning back, stretching out, putting his feet up, and taking his time with it, treating this novel as the first part of a three-act drama (two more novels to come out in due course), letting his characters and world breathe and come to life as he draws his plot together.

Abercrombie's prose in general is sharp. It reads quickly but packs a verbal twack at the same time. Plus, it's funny. Not in the farcical sense (it's not Abercrombie's cup of tea), but funny nonetheless (I've always disliked fantasy books where a young hero swings his magic wand and speaks a few words to create a lightning, a toad, or whatever, ie, Harry Potter comes to mind).

One thing that this novel lacked was some depth. Here we don't get the POV's of an Abercrombie novel. POV is way better to deepen the knowledge of a character. That is a fact. The omniscient teller is always just a teller, not the character himself. This is YA, ie, it's some sort of a downgrade from the usual Abercrombie. Ah, well. Better an Abercrombie's YA than no Abercrombie novel at all.

As stated in one of my other reviews (not in the one beneath), I just can't read traditional fantasy anymore. There is not much it can give me. That's why, at the moment, only Martin and Abercrombie fit the bill.

"Red Country" review, for those who would care to read it.

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