Half a King definitely set a new high bar in YA fantasy, that is going to be difficult for other works to follow, maybe including himself.
The story starts with a monarchy crisis following the dead of the king, and the heir, leaving the unexpected in line, Yarvi, a prince with crooked hand, to be raised as the new king, the Half a King.
The world building is Nordic, Viking type. But the socio-religion is a mix of Mediterannean and Northern Europe. The life is full with raiding party, but the trade is also lucrative. Slavery exists, if not rampant. All the region in Shattered Sea submitted to one High King, with several vassal as subject. Some regions are ruled by barbarians and do not bow to anyone (maybe with a price).
Despite aimed for YA, this novel did not follow the common trait of YA fantastic fiction. It is not tuned down for the half-a-wit readers, despite the title. It does not have the uber-romantic-love-triangle. It does not have Mary-Sue character. It does not have the typical teenage angst. In short, it is just as good as the First Law series, only shorter. And since it is shorter, the level of complexity is also reduced, but still to an acceptable level. The only thing that is tuned down is the violence.
The main power of this novel is its plot. Despite using just one POV, the main character POV, the novel is quite enjoyable. Using just one POV also provides an advantage; the main character is oblivious to the development of the story beyond him, which makes him vulnerable. Of course, it has several disadvantages also; the level of complexity is reduced, we have only one character scheming while the other characters waits.
It looks like that Abercrombie has a tender spot for cripples and bastards and broken things, to quote Tyrion Lannister. Yarvi is physically flawed, just like Sand dan Glokta in the First Law series. But the mind is the weapon, and he is wielding his weapon with expertise. And of course we love a smart and cunning character. But even with all the brain in the world, we are all under the spell of fate, which gives us no escape from it.
One additional praise to Abercrombie, I like that he reversed the common role of deity in this novel. The warlike is depicted as a female trait, while the peaceful to male. Sun is also a male, and moon is a male. Interesting!
I actually wants to give this novel only a four star, but the last chapter really hooked me as a bitter sweet ending, and I finally upgraded it to FOUR AND A HALF STAR, rounded down to FOUR STAR. Well, there is still room for improvement…