A reluctant young king escapes the confines of the palace to experience life in the surrounding city.
The boy delights in watching his subjects as they stroll through gardens and run to catch trains. He has his first taste of salt-and-vinegar chips. After a few days of wandering, penniless and sleeping in the rough, he decides to return home. But a man offers him some advice: “You grow up and become a man when you begin to put other people before yourself.” With that, the young king renames himself John, volunteers at a soup kitchen, and searches for meaning in his life. But what’s truly revealed in this second book of a trilogy that began with The Invisible Kingdom (2016) is that Ryan is far more accomplished as a visual artist than as a writer. The large-format book is gorgeously designed and illustrated with a mixture of the cut paper and screen printing that the British artist is known for. But the overlong text meanders through a meaningless plot cluttered with inane platitudes: “I never realised that life could feel as sweet as this”; “What a world!” Readers might be excused for skipping the text altogether just to thumb through the pages of matte-finished, heavy stock paper to appreciate the subtle coloring and shifting perspectives that capture city life. The king and other humans are depicted as silhouette cutouts, giving few clues to race or ethnicity, but his hair is straight.
Unfortunately, the artwork isn’t enough to save this book from itself. (Illustrated fiction. 13 & up)