The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen

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.

None of those things were in 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


  1. So sorry you didn't love this. I just finished it and did love it. I thought Jennifer did a fantastic job keeping the old Sage I loved in the story while he took on his new Jaron role. I'll be reviewing it and giving it away next Wednesday.

  2. I enjoyed it a lot, but there were some flaws I noticed as well. I'm hoping the third holds more of what you loved from the first. :)

  3. I just finished it last night, too, and I quite liked it. Perhaps it's because I've finally given up my objections to the first, and I could read this without the shadow of MWT hanging over it. Or perhaps it's because I really quite like Jaron. I agree that it's not quite as brilliant as the False Prince, but I quite enjoyed all the twists and turns.

  4. I loved Mott's actions in the second book. I'm looking forward to Book 3.

  5. I enjoyed The Runaway King, but didn't love it as much as The False Prince. For me, book 2 wasn't quite as intriguing and I didn't find it as "magical". But still enjoyable.

  6. " Cunning, well-thought out plan with which to do so--non-existent."

    *sigh* yes, this was my thought as well. I loved how Sage seemed to have it all figured out in The False Prince. I don't understand how he went from a character who was so clever and wove such a fantastic plan, to one who would go out there with NO plan (especially when one could have so easily been put together).

    I enjoyed The Runaway King, and like you, I'm looking forward to the third book. But there was just something missing...

  7. Hmmm. I just assumed that my problems with this were the standard problems I have with all fantasy. My John Flanagan fans are still fighting over the first book and begging for the second, so it does fill a need for medievalish fantasy.

  8. I definitely agree that this one was much messier. I do wish it kept that MWT quality of the protagonist seeming to have no plan when in fact he has a well thought out plan. (And I'm annoyed by Jaron's inability to talk to his fiancee.)

  9. I finally got my hands on this one, and I have to say that I (sadly) agree with you. I didn't LOVE The False Prince, but it was one of my favorite reads last year and I was really looking forward to this one. The lack of a plan is what I think really got to me. That, and I found the whole pirate bit totally unbelievable. But, like you, I do love Mott.

    Oh well. Maybe book three will bring back the Sage I liked so much.


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