Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

19 Mar

This is the second book in The Ascendance Trilogy which began with The False Prince. As such, this will contain spoilers for both the first book and also possibly this one once I get into it. If you don’t like spoilers, you should read the books before reading this review. Also, apologies for inconsistencies, incoherence, and typos–it’s late, I have a cold, and I’m still trying to work out my feelings about this book.

Jaron is king of Carthya, restored to his birthright and driving his regents mad with his sneaking out and insulting the servants. On the night of his family’s funeral, he can be found in the garden, early for his own assassination–attacked by pirates, he’s warned that if he doesn’t concede Carthya to Avenia, the pirates would take care of it for him. Meanwhile, his regents plot to install a steward until he is of age in order to put an end to his antics. Sent away from Drylliad, Jaron knows he has only one choice: kill the pirate king and put an end to the pirate attacks on his country. There’s just one problem… people who find the pirates don’t usually find their way back again.

Okay. First of all, please know that The False Prince is ranked right up there with Bitterblue and Sorcery and Cecelia and Tamora Pierce and Phillip Pullman and–well, you get the idea. I read the first book in this series as an advance, eight months before it was released, so soon it was still in manuscript form, all printer pages bound in a ring. I loved it. I loved Sage, I loved the mystery and the suspense, I loved the politics and not knowing what happened next or how it was going to get to the conclusion I was sure I had puzzled out.

This book, The Runaway King, didn’t hold as much appeal. There are so many different factors that I might repeat myself as I attempt to explain, but it simply wasn’t as good.

In short, I think the main, biggest, massive problem is that it’s marketed for Middle Grade–that is, under 12s (ish). I’m not sure what the published copy of The False Prince ended up being marketed toward, but my advance copy said “8+.” 8+? Are you kidding me?

For the False Prince I disagreed with it because of the violence and killings seen in the first few chapters. Also the fact that much of what went on in Jaron’s head would have been beyond most 8 year olds’ comprehension–which I suppose I shouldn’t judge, given that I quite enjoyed His Dark Materials at 10 and had no inkling it had anything to do with religion. But there you go.

For The Runaway King, I’m against the rating (10+) because I believe it’s placed restrictions on the book that held it back from being just as awesome as the first. It was short, only 322 pages. While the book takes place in the space of 10 days, I believe that when a story takes place in a short time frame there’s simply more reason to expand. This book could certainly have done with expansion. Character motivations, for a start (Jaron’s for insisting on trusting Roden, Roden’s for being trustworthy at the end). Political motivations. New character development. So much happened in those 10 days and I feel like the surface was barely scraped.

Other issues:

Sage. Jaron. He wasn’t the same as he was in the previous book, and perhaps having the weight of kingship on his shoulders had something to do with that. In which case, I understand that he’s a bit mean. But it also seemed like he wasn’t quite as clever, despite the fact that he does get up to a lot of mischief. Perhaps we were simply more in his head than we were in the first one.

Speaking of which, much of the fun was taken out of the book because of that. I could anticipate Jaron’s ever move, or nearly. He had a bunch of people who now knew his style of tricks–characters from the previous novel. Which is fine. But it seemed to me that it would make more sense to attempt to change his style and adapt rather than get up to the same old tricks again. Yeah, okay, the broken leg at the end threw a loop in his plans but it seemed forced.

Perhaps what I’m getting at is that there wasn’t as much intrigue in this one as there was in the last. How could there be, with that mystery solved? I suppose there was a mystery in this one too–“How will Jaron escape the pirates?”–but the ending was incredibly predictable. I could have told you that was going to happen at the start. Granted, I could have told you the ending of the False Prince at the start too, except with that one the more I read the more it seemed impossible. With The Runaway King, every solution seemed too easy. Which I guess goes back to the fact that it was marketed as Middle Grade, and thus had to read like it. If more of the characters’ motivations and such were shown, I would have been less inclined to think each solution was so easy. As it was, I was a bit disappointed with the plot and the characters.

I don’t mean to say it wasn’t worth the read. It was. I LIKE the characters well enough, I liked their interactions, I thought the plot line was good for what it was–a middle grade story. If I had gone into the book expecting to be taken on a journey with pirates and sword fighting and a medieval setting with a middle grade flair, I would have quite enjoyed it. But I went in thinking it was going to be The False Prince, and it wasn’t. It could be a book that sweetens with rereads, a theory I hope to test soon.

I also don’t want anyone thinking I’m not going to read the third book. Of course I will. It’s been my experience that second books in a trilogy aren’t always the best–it’s the first or third books that are usually people’s favorites. I’m excited to see what the third book has to offer (at the very least, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish an entire war in 300 pages. Here’s to Book #3 being longer than the last!)

If you have not yet read the False Prince, please do–it’s an excellent book that needs to be read by more of my friends so we can have excited talks about it. And if you read The False Prince, don’t hesitate to read its sequel. If you’re anything like me, you’re dying to know what happens next. The Runaway King wasn’t a bad book by any means–it’s certainly more entertaining than half the books I’ve read so far this year. It was simply different, and if you go into your reading adventure with that in mind, you won’t be disappointed.

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2 Responses to “Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen”

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  1. 2013: A Year of Reading in Review | More Than One Page - December 26, 2013

    […] The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen […]

  2. Book Review: The Runaway King’s Step Forward Feels a Bit Like a Step Backward | Nine Pages - April 9, 2014

    […] at More Than One Page makes an excellent point when she remarks that first and third books are often better than the […]

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