As the third and penultimate book in a series, ‘The Non Born King’ by Julian May has to live up to the high standards set by the previous books – no mean feat. It does this remarkably well. May has this gift of giving each book a standalone story arc, while still enabling them to follow along with the rest of the series.
Two things struck me in ‘The Non Born King’. The first appealed very much to the art historian in me. I had not noticed it upon my first reading, but this time was different. Twice it was mentioned that one of the characters looked like a painting in a palace in Florence, though nothing more exact than that. May cleverly refuses to say which painting, instead allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. I admit, I went looking, and I found one I thought could have been the painting mentioned based on the outfits and appearance of the primary figure. Later in the book I was reading a passage and with a jolt realised it could have been describing the same image. It may have been a small thing to notice, but it was very exciting for me, and an indication of both the inspiration that art can give and the thought placed into the novel. Within the novel’s context, it also allows for the reader to imagine what could have caused such a resemblance and connects our world to that of the characters.
The second thing was the shifting of characters. Over the course of the series, as the story progressed, May has gradually shifted the focus from certain groups of characters to others. It is done so subtly that it is very hard to notice unless you think back, and still manages to retain the sense the first book gives. This shifting allows for the exploration of different places, experiences and avenues that could affect the overall plot. A few characters do remain throughout, providing a point around which the novel can revolve and a hook to keep the reader attached. Which such a large cast, it can get hard to remember all their names, but enough focus is spent on the central figures to make up for it and any confusion. It also means that there is enough room to allow you to slip into the novel and imagine yourself as a character in it; a factor that I believe marks a good book.
Overall, as the third in a series, this book is brilliant. If you haven’t read it, I would certainly recommend you do. The series is the Saga of the Exiles, and the first one is ‘The Many-Coloured Land’. There are moments which don’t quite add up, and times where it comes a little bit hard to read, but I find there are enough surprises, and the characters and plot are so well designed that those parts don’t really matter.
Final rating: 4.5/5 stars.