The Last of the High Kings

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
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Sequel wanders but ultimately satisfies.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

A girl repeatedly skips school, and her parents do little about it.


A boy is killed with a sword, not described.


A reference to "smooching."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink whiskey.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there is little to be concerned with here: a reference to a boy being killed in the distant past, not described, and another to "smooching."

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What's the story?

In this sequel to The New Policeman, J.J. is now grown, a successful musician with a family of his own. But his daughter, Jenny, has taken to wandering the countryside all day, at the expense of family and school. And, unbeknownst to him, Jenny, whose heritage J.J. knows but the reader doesn't until well into the book, is being manipulated by a Puka into befriending a ghost that guards an ancient beacon. But the Puka, a magical creature that appears as a goat, has reasons of his own for fostering that friendship -- reasons that will have dire consequences for human beings. Includes Glossary and Bibliography.

Is it any good?

After a terrific opening sequence, the first half of this book wanders, just like Jenny. And, like Jenny, it can be fairly irritating. Until the fairytale elements kick in, J.J.'s family just reads as extremely dysfunctional, with a little brother who's supposed to be in his terrible twos but who seems more like an autistic child; J.J. and his wife, who have little consideration for, or understanding of, each other or their children, but who indulge those children to the point where a reader might wonder when Child Protection will be called; and Jenny, who seems to have serious psychological problems of her own.

In the second half, though, the story settles down, the characters become more understandable, and the plot becomes exciting and suspenseful. Author Kate Thompson tops it all off with an immensely satisfying ending that brings together elements from throughout the book with perfect timing. Rooted in Irish myth, and possessed of a strange, otherworldly feeling even when in our own world, this novel rewards those who persevere through to the end.

From the Book:
As J.J. crossed the field called Molly's Place, he felt his annoyance subsiding. More than that, he found he could almost sympathize with Jenny. Although it was midwinter, the weather was mild. A gentle breeze blew a soft, misty drizzle in from the sea, and the gray hills that rose ahead of him were inviting. Why would anyone want to squeeze into a crowded car and be stuck there for three hours when she could stride off into the fresh, earth-scented wilds beyond the farm?

He spotted something in the grass and changed his course. One of Jenny's shoes. It meant he was on the right track at least. He looked up and caught a glimpse of something white on the mountainside far ahead. That big old goat again. It had been hanging around a lot lately, and it made J.J. uneasy. He suspected that it might not be quite what it appeared to be. He suspected as well that Jenny was already a long, long way ahead. She hadn't got that much of a head start, he was fairly sure, but she was capable of moving incredibly quickly once she had, as she always did, jettisoned her shoes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Puka's arguments. After all the messes we've made, why does the human race deserve to survive? Does the Puka have a point? If you were in Jenny's place, and could save those you care about, would you allow the rest of humanity to be wiped out? Why or why not?

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