Rogue Knight: Middle Grade readers will love this

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Rogue Knight, book two of Brandon Mull’s FIVE KINGDOMS series, continues the story about Cole, the boy who took his friends to a haunted house on Halloween and unwittingly caused them all to be sold into slavery in another universe. (Ouch.) Cole managed to escape slavery, but he’s racked with guilt, and now, with the help of some friends he’s made in The Outskirts, which consists of the five kingdoms of this series’ title, he hopes to eventually save his friends.

Cole is currently in Elloweer, the second of the Five Kingdoms (you can probably guess that there will be five books in this series). He’s tagging along with Mira, a princess who’s hiding from her father, the King, because her father wants to steal her magic for himself. Mira is trying to find her sisters who are also in hiding so they can work together to overthrow their evil father. Cole figures that if he sticks with Mira and her unlikely band of heroes, he’ll someday have the contacts and resources he needs to free his friends and find a way back to the “real” world. Mira’s sister Honor is rumored to be in Elloweer, as is the dangerous Rogue Knight of the book’s title. Cole and Mira hope to find Honor.

I said in my review of the first book, Sky Raiders, that I admired Brandon Mull’s imaginative world-building and I thought the juvenile humor, fast-paced action, constant suspense, and hint of romance in the FIVE KINGDOMS series would appeal to its target audience of Middle Grade Readers. All this is still here in Rogue Knight. Cole and his new friends travel more of the Five Kingdoms and meet more odd people and encounter different types of magic. I miss the fun floating castles from Cole’s sky raiding days, but I understand Mull’s desire to show us something new. In Rogue Knight we meet an eccentric shaper who lives under the sea with her talking dog, a soul-sucking monster inspired by an American boy’s thoughts about his first-grade teacher, a funny sprite-like sidekick who kids will adore, and of course the seemingly indestructible but utterly polite titular Rogue Knight who may be friend or foe.

As usual, Brandon Mull keeps the story moving quickly — it’s one adventure after another and it’s always new and exciting. However, I’m having a hard time getting a full sense of Mull’s world. Mira tells Cole about the differences in the magic systems between the Five Kingdoms, but I’m left wondering how these five worlds are related to each other and why there is such delineation between them. How did that come to be? This may not be important to Middle Graders, but I present it as an example of why I can’t rate this series a little higher. At times I feel like I’m merely skating along the surface of Mull’s world and I can’t really get both my feet planted solidly on its ground.

Also, by this point in a series I’d like to see more character development, especially for Cole, our main protagonist. We get some needed backstory on Twitch, one of Cole’s new friends, which adds another level of tension to the plot, but Cole remains a little bland. We know that he’s just an average American boy with a crush on Jenna, one of his friends who’s trapped as a slave in The Outskirts. In the rare quiet moments when Mull gives Cole a chance to think, he tends to rehash the same thoughts — some version of “I miss home and I need to find my friends so I’m sticking with Mira because I think she’ll eventually be in a position to help me.” We don’t get to know him much more beyond this. Likewise some of the other characters are flat and are even given dull titles such as “The Rogue Knight,” “The Dread Knight,” and “The High King.” Mull is usually so imaginative that I’m telling myself that these insipid names are due to a lack of inspiration by the citizens of The Outskirts and not by Mull himself.

Nevertheless, I think most Middle Grade readers will love the FIVE KINGDOMS series. (Evidence: it currently has a 5-star rating at Amazon, with 50 reviews.) It’s a fun adventure story about courage, friendship, and honor. I’ve been listening to Simon & Schuster Audio’s version which is 13.5 hours long and read by Keith Nobbs. I love Nobbs’ voice and think it’s perfect for an MG novel with a male protagonist, but I get a little distracted by his cadence sometimes. To differentiate the characters he gives them each a different speech pattern. I don’t think this is necessary since the author provides tags such as “Cole said” to let us know who’s talking, but some narrators, especially those that may not have the skill to produce a lot of different voices, will alter the tempo for each speaker. Nobbs does this by drawing out random words in a way that sounds unnatural. (This only happens with the dialogue.) I sped up the audio to help with this. I will still choose the audio version for the third FIVE KINGDOMS book, Crystal Keepers, which comes out in March.

Five Kingdoms — (2014-2016) Ages 8-12. Adventure awaits in the Five Kingdoms—come and claim it in this start to a new series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series. Cole Randolph was just trying to have a fun time with his friends on Halloween (and maybe get to know Jenna Hunt a little better). But when a spooky haunted house turns out to be a portal to something much creepier, Cole finds himself on an adventure on a whole different level. After Cole sees his friends whisked away to some mysterious place underneath the haunted house, he dives in after them — and ends up in The Outskirts. The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms that lie between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. It’s an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. And once you come to the Outskirts, it’s very hard to leave. With the magic of the Outskirts starting to unravel, it’s up to Cole and an unusual girl named Mira to rescue his friends, set things right in the Outskirts, and hopefully find his way back home… before his existence is forgotten.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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