Reviewed March 11, 2013.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2013. 331 pages.
2013 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Children's Fiction
The Runaway King is the sequel to Cybils-winning The False Prince, and I like it even better than the first book. Yes, you should probably read them in order, mainly because this book gives away some things from the first book. In fact, you probably shouldn't read my review until you've read the first book. You do not have to vividly remember what happened in the first book to read this one, because crucial information is filled in without being tedious.
Jaron's life is threatened right at the start of the book. The pirates who were hired to kill him are upset that they failed. If they don't get him, they're going to attack all of Carthya. Other neighboring countries are threatening as well, but Jaron's regents don't want to let him prepare for war.
The title is something of a misnomer, because Jaron never runs. He decides to pretend to be pouting in safety, but instead he's going to head to the pirates and deal with them. How will he deal with them? That's what this book is about.
I do think I'm going to need to reread the book to decide if I think Jaron is more clever or more lucky. His plot was rather complex, and I got the impression things didn't go as he planned them -- but there was still at least one major surprise for me regarding his intentions, and I enjoyed that. (Is that obtuse enough to not give anything away?)
I love the way Jaron compulsively tells the truth. The reader can see him doing it as he goes and watch people "misunderstand" his words with his careful misdirection. And how much do we readers misunderstand? I'm going to have to reread it just to figure that out.
The story still isn't finished; trouble looms at the end of the book. But this is one of the more satisfying second books I've read in awhile. The story in this book has a nice beginning, middle, and end, and isn't simply an unfinished continuation.
This book, like its predecessor, begs comparison with Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series. This one actually doesn't suffer by the comparison (which is high praise coming from me!). Jaron doesn't seem as in control of his complicated plan as Gen would be, but he also is in a more precarious situation to start with. He's a younger king than Gen, and he's growing into his kingship. Watching him do so is a delight to read.