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