Half a King : Shattered Sea

  • by Joe Abercrombie
  • Narrated by John Keating
  • Series: Shattered Sea
  • 9 hrs and 17 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Yarvi, second son of the feared King Uthrik and the ruthless Queen Laithlin of Gettland, was born with a useless hand, and cannot hold a shield, or make fast a knot, or pull an oar, or do any of the things expected from a man. Left an outcast, he's surrendered his birthright and been given a woman's place as apprentice to Mother Gundring, Gettland's Minister, training to be an adviser, diplomat, healer and translator.
But when his father and brother are murdered by Grom-gil-Gorm, King of neighboring Vansterland, Yarvi is forced to take the Black Chair and become king himself - or half a king, at least - swear an oath of vengeance against the killers of his father, and lead a raid against the Vanstermen. Betrayed, left for dead, and enslaved on a rotting trading galley, Yarvi will need all his Minister's wit and cunning to escape, and all his diplomacy and knowledge to keep a rag-tag band of other slaves together on a month long trek across the frozen wastes of the utmost north. Among them are Sumael, the ship's single-minded navigator, Rulf, an ex-raide, Jaud, an ex-baker, and Nothing, a mad old man with a mysterious past and an almost magical skill with a sword. And their owner, the brutal Captain Shadikshirram, will be dogging their heels at every step. Father Peace may be the patron god of Ministers, but to reclaim the Black Chair, Yarvi will have to strike a deal with Mother War, and once you've invited the mother of crows to be your guest, there can be no telling whose blood will be spilled.

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Narrator is completely mismatched for the tone

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I'm a long time fan of Joe Abercrombie. I've read every one of his books except for the Shattered Seas trilogy, which I held off on so I didn't have to wait between volumes. Well, now I'm here, and after finishing the Half a King audiobook, I have to say I loved the story but hated the narrator.

Like every Abercrombie book, the prose is sharp and witty, the action intense, and there's no a shortage of quotable lines. But prose aside, I think most people come back to Abercrombie for his realistic plot lines and brutally honest themes. There's no such thing as a Mary Sue in Abercrombie's works. Most "heroes" act according to their motivations instead of generalized stereotypical morals and are almost always forced to find unpredictable (and often humorously awkward) solutions to obstacles. Abercrombie's stories are real life wrapped in a fantasy setting. And in this case it's a bloody, Viking-like setting.

But I'm sure most people already know it can get gritty in an Abercrombie book. I think that's what his fans actually want. But it's this fact that brings me to my issue with the audiobook. Let me be clear, the story itself is great, but the narrator, while not being bad in the sense of narration, is completely mismatched for the overall tone. For example, many of the characters are gruff, battle-worn creatures who value steel over diplomacy and would cut a man's throat in no time flat to be rid of their shackles. It was because of this that I was seriously distracted to hear the narrator babble on in one of the highest, most squeaky voices I've heard in the any of the many audiobooks I've listened to.

This narrator should be narrating children's books, not Abercrombie books. I don't know, maybe it's because this book was marketed as YA initially, but it completely distracted me from the despair I should have been feeling as I put myself in the shoes of a crippled young slave who was forced to row with one half-missing hand while being whipped in the back. Now before I scare you away, the book is also funny, and has many heartwarming moments. But lets be honest, Abercrombie isn't the master of "Grimdark" for nothing.

For me it boils down to this: You wouldn't cast Hugh Grant to play The Mountain in Game of Thrones, right? Well that's what it felt like to me hearing John Keating narrate this book.

And to make matters worse, Keating narrates all three U.S. version books! Obviously I'll just read the physical books, but it would have been nice to hear these stories narrated by a properly chosen narrator.

And if you want to hear a narrator that nails the Viking-like tone (and I would kill to hear him narrate an Abercrombie book), listen to Richard Armitage in Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell. Here's an excerpt: https://youtu.be/494Kqxhdczs

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- jacob robertson

Formula is not the opposite of gritty; it's just..

Perhaps Joe Abercrombie is a little weary of seeing the word "gritty" attached to his name in every other review, however accurate it may be. But formulaic is not an alternative to gritty; it's just...formulaic. Most of this book you have read before. Admittedly Abercrombie does it at least as well and mostly better than others, but it is impossible not to sigh and wonder why he decided to attend the party without his best clothes on. Still, reweaving old threads into a costume which is perhaps somewhat more stylish than the original demonstrates skill, albeit little inspiration. Less wise was his impulse to rework a peerless piece of stitching (a scene from Hamlet) and leave it hanging tattered on the rack. The advice comics give to their peers, "If you are going to steal, steal from the best," is not necessarily good counsel for writers.

All that being said, this is still Abercrombie, and his second or third best work is well worth reading. The ending, in particular, is very well crafted (will we have to wait until a sequel or two have come and gone before we can get you fully back, Joe?), and I was never really bored or confused. I certainly do not regret the credit, though I was also never astonished, never shocked, never terrified, never convulsed with laughter, never deeply moved, never transfixed by an image. Much more tender, much less muddy. But oh how the mighty have fallen. An extra star off for the descent from the heights, I'm afraid.

John Keating does a perfectly creditable job with the narration. Stephen Pacey or Michael Page, as much as I admire them both, would have been poor choices for this wide-eyed, coming of age story. Keating uses a variety of Scots, Irish and English dialects to set and identify the characters, and he only occasionally misses a meaningful inflection. It is strange hearing him read Abercrombie only because this is not the JA we are all used to.
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- David

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-15-2014
  • Publisher: Recorded Books