The Joe Abercrombie YA Experiment is a success!
We all love Joe Abercrombie here at Fantasy-Faction, but when we heard that Lord Grimdark was to give writing a Young Adult novel a shot we couldn’t help but react with the ‘OMG Cat’ face (that one to your right).
How could an author known as the modern master of Grimdark Fantasy hope to convince parents and young adult readers to pick up his books? Surely parents (who hold the wallets and purses) wouldn’t risk exposing younger readers to the levels of blood, violence, sex and swearing that have taken Abercrombie to the top of the adult fantasy bestseller lists? How about Abercrombie’s loyal, older readers? Many would buy it, of course, but wouldn’t they feel disappointed by the watering-down of their favourite elements of Abercrombie’s writing?
Well, all those thoughts continued to concern and confuse us until we got our hands on the book, Half A King. Certainly, there were many of the often seen tropes we’ve come to expect in the Young Adult genre: a quick pace, a sub-100k word count, a young protagonist, intense romantic emotions and feelings, a mission that sees the young protagonist become important to everyone around him (even those much older and wiser) and so on, but the violence was still there (skulls get cracked, fingers get severed), the low fantasy elements were there too (the journey, an evil overlord), the dark and memorable characters existed in abundance and generally it was a very good book.
This made me think hard about what Young Adult actually is and I realised my definition of Young Adult was definitely in need of some attention – it was wrong at best, with ‘condescending’ being more likely. Thankfully, I was in a good place to do a reevaluation: I’d just been invited to host some panels at the Young Adult Literature Convention and so was required to do a lot of research and reading into books being read by young adults. Turns out many young adults like reading about violence (playing video games too!?), they swear (shock!), they fall in love and are, as Joe Abercrombie himself said in a very good blog, “above all, adults. Just young ones.”
What Joe has produced with Half A King was not a watered down version of a Joe Abercrombie novel, but a novel written with the young adult state of mind in mind. Young Adults are people who are beginning to shrug off those protective chains that kept them save when they couldn’t look after themselves, indeed, think about this: on a panel this weekend an author made the point that: ‘We live in a sheltered society compared to ages gone by. We’ve only just decided that 13 is too young to make life changing contributions to family, community and the world. Not too long ago 13 year olds were working, fighting as soldiers, etc.’ When I lined this fact up with my thoughts that YA was a book that should bleep out swear words, put a screen in front of violence and fade to black before the sex I realised that I was indeed being as condescending as I’d originally feared.
All that said, there are some people that the ‘Young Adult’ label really matters to and that is the marketers at publishing house and the parents who use the ‘young adult’ section of a book shop to buy books for their teens. How well is a book going to do if parents turn around and say ‘nope, my child isn’t reading a book by that Joe Abercrombie bloke’ or older readers (with their own purses and wallets) say ‘nope, I’m not wondering into the children’s section to buy a book!’ Probably not very well… right?
So, I’m guessing Joe and his marketing team were pretty damned nervous in the lead up to the bestseller list being printed in The Sunday Times this weekend (the UK equivalent of The New York Times‘s list). Here’s what he saw when he opened the paper:
We should point out that this isn’t the end of the nervous waiting for Abercrombie, though. Half A King is released in the United States this week, a place Joe isn’t as well established and it will be very interesting to see how it does there. It may even help him that he isn’t known as widely in the US, who knows? My guess is that Joe’s US team will be the first in queue for that New York Times next week…. Why not pop down to your local book store and pick up a copy to help him out? We can assure you you will be glad you did!