The Runaway King

The Runaway KingIf you read the review of The False Prince, you know I loved it. Its sequel, The Runaway King, doesn’t disappoint (which is rare in sequels, particularly in middle books of trilogies, but that’s probably a post for another time).

If you haven’t read The False Prince yet, I suggest you do that before you read this review to avoid spoilers. If you found the first book fun and suitable, The Runaway King will be as well.

OK, if you’re still with me, I’ll spoil away. Young King Jaron, still full of attitude and understandable trust issues, is trying to learn how to be king to a country that still doesn’t know what to make of him. He’s certain that threats loom on every side, but the regents insist he’s making a big deal out of nothing. Of course Jaron has the right of it.

To save the kingdom, Jaron goes back undercover to unravel and diffuse the many threats to his life and his country.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Violence and Death

The novel begins with the great line, “I had arrived early for my own assassination.” There’s no question that many people are trying to kill Jaron, and they give it their best shot. He’s quite beaten up by the end, including a somewhat graphic breaking of his leg. Jaron doesn’t hesitate to debilitate people when fighting with them, but he’s still not comfortable with outright killing them.

Several minor characters die. Probably the hardest to take is a mother killed by thieves in front of her young daughter. The father died off screen in the same attack, but we see the dying breaths of the mother. The trauma of the girl isn’t dwelt on, but isn’t ignored either.

Trust and Loyalty

Jaron understandably has trust issues—a not insignificant number of people are actively plotting against him, and a lot of others aren’t exactly on his side. His own lack of self-esteem leads to some other issues; he tends to doubt his friends and allies, because why would they put up with him when he’s so difficult and disappointing? Of course, he does have true friends and allies, and through the book he gathers more in spite of himself. Slowly he learns to trust himself as well.

Jaron is unfailingly loyal to the people he cares about, even when he appears to be working against them. He has their best interests at heart, even when on the surface it looks like he’s betraying them. In the end, this loyalty serves him well.

Parental Disappointment

This goes both ways. Jaron is convinced that his father was always disappointed in him, and he projects this onto pretty much everyone else who has to deal with him instead of his older brother as the king. Through the course of the novel, Jaron learns more and more about the father he barely knew—and a lot of that stuff isn’t very nice. His father was at best a bit naïve, and at worst unethical. Since his father is dead, it’s hard for Jaron to work through what he learns; it’s not like he can discuss it with his father.

Love, Duty, and Betrothals

Jaron is already betrothed to Amarinda, a necessary political match that cannot easily be undone. Although they are most certainly not in love, it’s interesting that they also don’t really question the marriage. It has to happen or things will get really bad. I appreciate that Amarinda isn’t portrayed as a horrible person who must be displaced or gotten rid of for true happiness to be attained. Although she’s a minor character, there are hints of depth and complexity that will likely be explored in the last book.

Imogen seems to have fallen in love with Jaron, although she knows it can never work out. Jaron loves her, but doesn’t seem sure if he’s in love with her. Figuring that out isn’t exactly one of his top priorities. However, she’s a dear friend and he would do just about anything for her. It doesn’t take his enemies long to figure that out, and his love for her is used against them both—threatening Imogen is more effective than threatening Jaron. To protect her, he says terrible things to her to try to drive her away. Imogen leaves in the end, because she loves him and doesn’t want to get in the way of his necessary marriage to Amarinda, who is also Imogen’s friend. I appreciate that the women aren’t jealous rivals.

Reading People

Although Jaron imagines himself as rude and antisocial, one of his main strengths is being able to read people. With some, he hopes that the good in them will triumph in the end, and he’s usually right. With some, he never trusts them, and again he’s usually right. Although he’s a capable thief and swordsman, his biggest strength is knowing people.

Drugs and Alcohol

Jaron is still a teenager, but he drinks ale and wine with meals—he never gets drunk, though. At one point, he drugs the hard cider he gives to his friends so they will be asleep when he runs away and they won’t be able to stop or follow him.

Higher Beings

Jaron prays to the devils to leave him alone or to plague other people. This is the only hint of higher powers in this setting—there’s no talk of a god that I remember—and these devils pretty much only make things difficult for people. Jaron rues that he seems to be one of their favorite targets.


I very much enjoyed this book and look forward to the last book in the trilogy (I have to wait until February, though!). These novels each tell a complete story, which I appreciate. The teaser for the last book is only a few pages long, tacked on to remind us that Jaron’s story is not yet fully told. You definitely need to read the books in order—many of the characters return and the story continues, assuming you have The False Prince as a reference. Time isn’t wasted filling in the holes. If The False Prince was appropriate for your reader, The Runaway King will be as well.


The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Published in 2013 by Scholastic
Read my personal copy

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