“And Yarvi realized that Death does not bow to each person who passes her, does not sweep out her arm respectfully to show the way, speaks no profound words, unlocks no bolts. The key upon her chest is never needed, for the Last Door stands always open. She herds the dead through impatiently, needles of rank or fame or quality. She has an ever-lengthening queue to get through. A blind procession, inexhaustible.”
Prince Yarvi of the Gettlands is thrust into the role of King upon his father’s sudden death, but even after a lifetime of preparations the young boy is still not ready to take on his throne. He doesn’t believe himself capable of such power, and neither do the other royals and soldiers around him. It is due to this distrust that Yarvi finds himself awash on a new shore in a strange new land that he’d only heard of through stories of his kingdom’s enemies. So who finds him first as he crawls from the cold waves? His enemy king, of course. Pretending to be a mere baker’s son, Yarvi is then brought into slavery to be sold in one of the high markets of Grom-gil-Gorm’s territory. As he ventures from a throne, to a cell, to a ship where he is charged with the job of an oarsmen, Yarvi begins to plot his vengeance for those who betrayed him and cast him out of his home, and he’ll have to rely upon his enemies if he wants to survive first in order to get back his crown.
Our hero of the story is roughly around the age of sixteen if I recall correctly, and he definitely acts like it. Although I’m infatuated with tales of warriors and knights and vikigns etcetera, I was always a bit skeptical about how quick to take on a challenge some of those figures were. In Yarvi’s case, he truly wants to be king but he knows he’s not ready yet— spiritually or physically. For starters, Yarvi was born with half a hand, hence the title. This setback is only a setback if he allows it, and unsurprisingly he does. He was always frowned upon for being a cripple, and he is self-conscious of the fact. Even when he was being displayed in a line up of slaves to be bought, he hid his hand so that his buyer wouldn’t think twice.
To make matters worse, he had to help row a ship with only seven fingers, and he was described as being scrawny and lanky in the prior chapters. There were times when I became frustrated with his inner monologue and the depressing thoughts that accompanied it, but then I remembered that unlike other stereotypical hero’s, Yarvi acts just how I imagine anyone else in his position in real life would. He is hesitant about everything, passionate about the things he desires, and switches moods constantly.
Along his journey as a slave, Yarvi befriends his fellow oarsmen and the other captives aboard the ship. I was pleased to read that there are many mentions of women captains and warrior queens, but I felt that all the secondary characters lacked any true depth. Taking into consideration that this is meant to be a story about one boys development into a man, I found it troubling how little was spent on the progression of characteristics and rather most of the plot centered around battle tactics and the main protagonists constantly on the run.
Yet even the battles felt short, as did most of the book, which I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t take me so long to force myself to read. Abercrombie has a fluid style of writing, and I really enjoyed his prose and context of language, but it was still a challenge to finish this story if only for the lack of connection I felt towards any of the characters, including the main one.
Would I classify this as a story about vikings? I’m sure under certain dictions it would qualify as such because of the mention of Vasterland and the enemy kings, but personally I read this just as I would have read any other story set in medieval fantasy realms. It didn’t stand out at all, and it felt dull nearly every other chapter. Perhaps you’ll have a better time with this one than I did if you decide to read it, but I can’t say I loved this story without coming up with explanations as to why I also found issues with it. I’m told the second book in this series is even better, but I’m still uncertain whether or not I will be reading that one.
Overall, I found this book to be enjoyable. It was a fun read, but it dragged a bit at the end and I still don’t feel as connected to these characters as I would have preferred. There was so much potential, but the delivery was weak. Oh well. On to more books!
My Rating: 3/5 stars.
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