After revealing himself as the true Prince of Carthya, thought long-dead after his ship was attacked by pirates, Sage (now Jaron) has ascended the throne and is now King. He is still so young, though, and his regents aren't sure they made the right decision to name him king without a steward first. After an assassination attempt, one of his regents moves to officially place a steward on the throne until they feel Jaron has learned enough about ruling to do it well.
Jaron doesn't feel this is the right solution, and he's frustrated that the regents aren't paying more attention to the threat of war with Avenia. Jaron knows that Avenia - working with the pirates and the pirate king, Devlin - are responsible for the assassination attempt, and he knows that Avenia plans to invade Carthya. He's determined to stop it before it starts, so he concocts a plan: in order to save his kingdom, he must flee his own country, going undercover once more as Sage, and infiltrate the pirates.
The Runaway King is the sequel to the story that began with The False Prince, and it's the second book in a trilogy. The standout of these books is the voice. The world-building is pretty standard, and the plots - while fun - aren't terribly original. But Sage/Jaron's voice is phenomenal. He's sassy and intelligent and snarky and a little arrogant but a lot unsure of himself, too. He loves deeply, while denying that love most of the time, and he acts before he thinks way too often. He's such an interesting character and the perfect narrator for his story.
This particular story is interesting enough, with plenty of action and derring-do and a nice, twisty plot (though not as twisty as the first). The inclusion of the pirates will definitely pump up the appeal, though it's got plenty of appeal already. It's a smaller story than that of the first book, and it's certainly a much smaller story than that which will be told in the third volume (as the last chapter declares), but I don't think it's in danger of being a second-book slump.
I will say that the way the main storyline is resolved is bit of a disappointment - it seems too easy, requiring a certain character to act in a way that is at odds with previous behavior. But the journey to that point - and the promise of the story to come - makes up for this slight shortcoming. The story moves so well and Jaron tells it in such an engaging way, it's hard to stop telling yourself "Just one more chapter..."
Review copy provided by the publisher (via Kelly @ Midwinter!). The Runaway King will be available March 1.