Nicholas, third son of Prince Arutha of Krondor, is a bright and gifted youngster, but sheltered by the restrictive life of his father’s court. To learn more of the world outside the palace walls, Nicholas and his squire, Harry, set sail for pastoral Crydee. Thus begins an adventure that will place the fate of his nation on his unsure shoulders.
Shortly after their arrival, Crydee is brutally attacked by unknown forces. The castle is reduced to ruins, the townspeople slaughtered and two young noblewomen – friends of Nicholas – abducted. More than a simple raid for slaves, the invaders serve dark forces intent upon the wholesale destruction of the Kingdom of the Isles.
As brother to the future King, Nicholas must undertake a long and dangerous journey. And as he ventures further from the familiar landmarks of his home, Nicholas learns that more than the fate of two girls is at stake, even more than the fate of the Kingdom, for behind the murderous pirates stands a force that menaces the entire world of Midkemia, and he is destined to confront this terrifying threat.
The King’s Buccaneer, the fifth book in the Riftwar Cycle, is another largely standalone story. Having read the previous books definitely enriches the experience, but it can certainly be read on its own. I have a soft spot for Nicholas, the protagonist of this book. His overwhelming need to be good enough, to get his father’s approval, was something I strongly identified as a teen when I first read the book and my sympathy for Nicky has never left me, even if like Nicky, I mostly grew out of having to have my father’s approval to feel I was a good person. Add to that the fact that they pretend to be pirates in the story and how could I not like it?
So, pirates! Funnily enough, despite all I thought I remembered about this novel, there is a lot less sailing than I’d expected. I do love the time they spend on board their ship the Raptor and their stay in Freeport. We discover a lot of new ground in this book, mostly on the faraway continent of Novindus. To be honest, I found the first quarter or so before the raid a little slow – slow enough I even had a bit of a break at about a fifth in due to other blog reading, though I jumped back in with no problem – but once the raid happens and they set sail, I kept turning pages and I got pulled into the rescue story and following the characters on their quest.
The King’s Buccaneer has some lovely characters. Nicholas is an intriguing protagonist and I love his arc from insecure, bashful youth to a confident and competent adult. I’m conflicted about how his clubfoot was treated however, because on the one hand the fact that it was a symbol of Nicky’s fears and insecurities which couldn’t be completely cured unless he overcame them was a lovely metaphor, on the other hand why couldn’t he have succeeded with the clubfoot? He seemed to be doing well enough for himself before Pug helped him cure himself. Still, as mentioned before, Nicky has a soft spot in my heart and I loved his story. I loved the interaction between Marcus and Nicholas, as they are the perfect illustration of the old adage “Sometimes the people who are most annoying to us are those who resemble us most closely”. The slow move from obvious dislike and distrust to wary alliance and later true comradeship was great to read and it shows that Feist is not only able to write great friendly duo’s such as Jimmy and Locky, Nicky and Harry, and Erik and Roo, but less likely friendships as well.
The narrative has great secondary characters in Nakor, Ghuda, Amos, Calis, and Harry. The latter is rather reminiscent of Locky; he has the same exuberant and loyal nature and a similar eye for the ladies. It was great to reunite with the three older men and the chance to see more of Tomas and Aglaranna’s son Calis was interesting too. In Margaret we finally get a female character that never lacks agency. Whatever happens to the girls – and even if, in the end, they are rescued by our rescuing party – Margaret never gives up and keeps trying to discover a way to escape her captors. This impression is strengthened by the contrast with Abigail, which is a bit disappointing, as where Margaret is described as handsome, not conventionally pretty, Abigail is and while her function as foil for the competent Margaret works, it’s too bad that the beautiful, blonde girl has to be a helpless wretch when push comes to shove. So it’s two steps forward one step back in that regard.
The key question in this reread series for every book is: has it held up? In the case of The King’s Buccaneer I have to conclude that yes, so far I think it’s held up the best of all of them. Not only are we finally moving towards some competent, agency-wielding women, we also have an interesting protagonist who has an interesting internal struggle to conquer in addition to the horrific plot the raiders have hatched that he and his companions need to foil. Despite the reservations I still have regarding some of the authorial choices made, especially concerning Nicky’s foot, The King’s Buccaneer remains a wonderful read and one that still leaves me closing the book on the last page with a satisfied smile.
This review is part of my Midkemia Reread, in which I read all the books Raymond E. Feist wrote, set in the world of Midkemia. For more on the why and how of this series of reviews, check out Midkemia Reread: An Introduction.