Author: Joe Abercrombie
Information on series: First of Shattered Sea trilogy, second book Half the world published 2015; final installment Half a war expected 2016.
Audience: Young Adult/New Adult, with Adult crossover potential
Read alikes: Traitor’s blade, by Sebastien de Castell; The Emperor’s blades by Brian Staveley; Prince of fools by Mark Lawrence; Grace of Kings by Ken Liu;Assassin’s apprentice by Robin Hobb
Rating (scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the highest): 8
Recommended to: Reluctant fantasy readers as it is light on fantastical elements; fans of political/royal thrillers set in a different world; someone looking for something similar to but shorter and less violent than A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)
Tl;dr: A page turning coming-of-age tale set in a Nordic/Viking world with a fair share of deception and betrayal, but with redeeming themes of friendship and loyalty.
“I spent half my childhood in the shadows. Hiding from my father or my brother. Creeping from a place of solitude to another. Seeing while unseen, and pretending I was a part of what I saw. Making up a life where I wasn't an outcast.”
Yarvi was never supposed to be King of Gettland. Born with a malformed hand he spent his time studying languages and maps, reading ancient texts and learning plant lore while preparing for life as a Minister, adviser and counselor to the royal family. But when his father and his older brother are murdered by a rival country’s king, he suddenly finds himself seated upon the Black Throne. Despite his physical handicap Yarvi is determined to prove his worth as a ruler and swears an oath to avenge his father and brother’s killers. When things don’t go quite as planned he finds himself in hostile environments far from home fighting for his life.
This book has it all: adventure on the high seas, treachery and back-stabbing, vengeance and violence, twists and turns aplenty. There’s a very minor romantic element but the true relationships are developed between the cast of well developed (though not necessarily likeable) characters. There’s enough action and dialogue to keep a reluctant fantasy reader engaged and the world-building is solid but not overbearing (no footnotes or family trees needed here). The overall tone is more melancholy and bleak which goes against more traditional epic fantasy. There are also few fantastical elements or magic, only a couple passing mentions of elves that used to inhabit the land long, long ago.
Though it is technically part of a trilogy (the third and final installment expected in 2016), there is enough closure that it could easily stand alone. It is also fairly short when compared to other fantasy novels, which will also appeal to reluctant readers or those new to the genre that may be overwhelmed by the prospect of beginning a lengthy series. The protagonist is implied to be in his late teen years, though his actual age is never mentioned. For this reason it could be promoted as Young Adult despite lacking many traditional YA tropes. Additionally, the violence and gore that is ubiquitous in Abercrombie’s earlier works has been significantly toned down.