Sunday, January 1, 2017

Rogue Knight

Rogue Knight
by Brandon Mull
Recommended Ages: 13+

In this second book of the "Five Kingdoms" series, Cole Randolph - a boy from Mesa, Arizona who was among a group of kids abducted and sold into slavery in an alien world called the Outskirts - has escaped from his death-defying duties with the Sky Raiders and gone on the run with an odd assortment of friends. One of them is an insectoid boy named Twitch who is looking for a champion to save his village from a petty tyrant. Another is a princess, one of five daughters of the realm's High Shaper, who faked his daughters' deaths and stole their powers, freezing their ability to age.

Joined by other members of the resistance, these youths flee from the kingdom of Sambria, where enchanted artifacts like Cole's jumping sword work, and cross the border into Elloweer, where enchanters create fantastic illusions and sometimes, if they're very powerful, change living things. The group's goal, besides avoiding capture by relentless slavers, legionnaires, and enforcers, is mostly to save Mira's royal sister Honor, who according to the stars (don't ask) is somewhere in Elloweer, and may be in danger. In addition, Cole is on a personal mission to free his enslaved Mesa friends and, if possible, take them back home.

The path to these goals proves to be anything but straightforward. The young folks find Elloweer being disrupted by not one but two mysterious powers, each of which seems to be using a shaping ability stolen from someone else to attack the Ellowine way of life. One is a monster whose name, the kids learn, is Morgassa, and who empties entire villages by converting everyone in them into her mindless drones. The other is an armored champion calling himself the Rogue Knight, who has been taking over Ellowine politics in the kingdom's time-honored way - by beating each town's champion in a duel, one town at a time - and who has taken to robbing travelers as a way of pressuring the capital city's champion into accepting his challenge.

Between these forces and the High King's abuses - which include the forbidden shapecraft, tampering with the fabric of magic itself - there soon won't be anywhere safe for Cole and his friends in Elloweer - especially after they snatch his slave-marked friend Dalton out of a heavily guarded compound and spring the most secret prisoner from the most highly guarded prison in the land. To find where to turn next, they must first visit one of the most terrifying beings in all the Five Kingdoms, win a contest of wits against a caged demon, beard the Ellowine Grand Shaper in her den, and confront both the Rogue Knight and Morgassa. Plus, Cole must personally figure out how to command his unique shaping ability in time to save everybody from doom.

This sequel to Sky Raiders introduces a surprise crossover character, or at least crossover species, from Brandon Mull's "Beyonders" series, tying the two entirely separate sagas together in at least some kind of multiverse. Torivors were depicted as terrifying, living shadows in "Beyonders," but only gave a vague hint of their true nature, which is here explored in more fascinating detail. This series also abounds in its variety of imaginative forms of magic, using those introduced in this book to thrilling effect. Mull truly has a great imagination, demonstrated before not only in "Beyonders" but also the "Fablehaven" series, and this book shows his ability to invent novel magical creatures and surprising twists on familiar concepts is far from exhausted. Above all, once he gets his story rolling, he knows how to make these inventions and twists tell for gripping dramatic effect.

My only quibbles about this book are that, after setting the series aside for about 2.5 years, it took me a while to recover my feel for the story and the world in which it takes place. For once, I find myself complaining about a follow-up book getting underway without a ton of re-exposition to bring lapsed readers back up to speed. I know, it's a lame thing to complain about, but when there are a lot of speaking characters right at the beginning of a book, it's nice to be given at least a sketch of each character to hold in one's mind. It took me a few chapters to really get a feel for who Twitch, Jace, Mira, and Joe were. Their background gradually came back to me. It may be a strength as well as a weakness, but at least it's interesting to note, this is one of those books that errs on the side of assuming you recently read the one before it.

The ones after it, meanwhile, are Crystal Keepers, Death Weavers, and a yet-to-be-announced fifth title. Meanwhile, Mull is also planning to release Dragonwatch, the beginning of a "Fablehaven" sequel series, in March 2017.

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