So last night I re-read The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, and enjoyed it as much, if not more, this time around. And then this morning I started its sequel, The Runaway King. I wanted to like it just as much, but was anxious--the first book depended on a plot twist that couldn't carry over into this one, a twist that tugged on my maternal heart something fierce, and I loved the quasi-school setting, and the fact that the plot was mostly small happenings woven into something bigger than the sum of the parts.
The Runaway King, a book whose plot goes galloping madly from one danger and excitement to the next, with bandits, pirates, assassins, daring escapes, twisted loyalties, friendships sorely tested, and improbable sword duels..... And in the end, it was a book I enjoyed, but didn't love.
In this book, Sage is now King Jaron, king of a country on the brink of war, with a piratical empire of the sea allied with a hostile neighboring country. But the kingdom's council don't agree, don't thing Jaron is ready to be king in anything but name, and refuse to take his perception of the threat seriously. So rather than becoming a puppet, protected for his own safety, he decides to meet the threat head on.
Step number one--bring down the pirates.
Cunning, well-thought out plan with which to do so--non-existent.
Jaron is used to relying on his wits, instincts, and abilities as a thief and a swordsman. But can one boy (for he is still young) really have any hope of destroying a ruthless pirate king and his powerful piratical conglomerate of murderers? Or even escaping alive once he's reached them?
There were many, many times when I had to suspend disbelief in this story. Many things just seemed too improbable, both physically and in terms of character reactions (and, more specifically, the whole pirate society set up, which seemed as unlikely and impractical as all get out), and as these piled up, my ability to peacefully accept and enjoy the story diminished. And then once that happened, I started to read the words qua words more critically, and noticed a few places where the writing kind of disappointed me. Sigh.
I do still care a lot about Jaron, and the cast of supporting characters (with specific reference to Mott, who is totally awesome and who isn't implicated in any way shape or form with any of the improbable stuff that grated on me), and I'll be anxiously awaiting book III. But this book just felt a messier, and not as fully thought out, as the first, and I just couldn't quite warm to it.
But then again, I almost never like any book that has pirates in it, so it might be just me!
Here are two reviews from people who did like it lots--Random Musings of a Bibliophile, and The Book Smugglers, and another review at Ms. Yingling Reads
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher