Sunday, 27 July 2014

Joe Abercrombie: Half A King

This book is going to cause huge problems in bookshops. It’s going to be stacked high in the young adult section, and after kids have raced through it, they’ll be back in looking for the next book. Which is not going to be out for a while. So they’ll want to know if the shop has got anything else by Joe Abercrombie...

After their outraged parents have finished burning down the bookshops, I’m sure we’ll all agree that we’ve learned something important.

Coming at it from the opposite direction, I was kind of enjoying a Joe Abercrombie book with a low to middling body count and almost no actual torture. Mind you, at times I was beginning to wonder if he had written it as a bet to see just how much of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland he could tweak. The Tough Guide is a great book which would-be writers ought to read and memorise, but Abercrombie seemed to have taken the whole thing as a challenge; “Sure, those are cliches, but if you’re good enough, you can still make them work….” So there’s a teenage hero, and he’s on a quest, and he even has to be a galley slave, where of course he makes some great friends who are a huge help him to him in his quest. There’s a prince who has to overthrow a plot to dethrone him so that he can reclaim his king… and so on.

And Abercrombie, damn him, finds ways to make it all fresh. Even though there’s a lot of it which is just a kid-friendly retread of some of the hard stuff. Yarvi is a smart kid with a bad hand, kind of like a watered down Inquisitor Glokta (kids are SO not ready for Inquisitor Glokta). Nameless is so like Logen Ninefingers, I was waiting for him actually to be Logen Ninefingers. No. The Broken Sea does not cross over into the world of Abercrombie’s other books, so I still don’t know what the hell Valint and Balk think they’re up to (though Half a King continues Abercrombie’s preoccupation with money and the way in which it ought to matter in fantasy far more than most writers let it).

The next book up in the sequence, Half the World won’t be out til February of next year, which I suppose gives me time to read some of the other stuff which has piled up. I was going to say “If Abercrombie can keep it up, it will be worth the wait” but the reality is that Abercrombie has already demonstrated that he can keep chunking out gripping stuff by the yard almost at will. And this trilogy looks like it’s already pretty much sorted out in his head. So with any luck he’ll have it all in print by this time next year and can get back to his day job. 

It’s the kids I worry about. They’re not ready for the real thing. I’ve got adult friends who weren’t ready for it.

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