The Vagabond King

A Coming of Age Story

Young Adult - Coming of Age
270 Pages
Reviewed on 10/31/2018
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

The Vagabond King: A Coming of Age Story by James Campion Conway is far removed from your typical coming of age novel. Sixteen-year-old Chris is faced with a crisis of confidence – confidence in who he is and what he wants from life. When his beloved mother dies of cancer, Chris is faced with a pushy father, who he now understands is not even his “real” father at all. Faced with a senior year at high school and college in his future, Chris cannot face the path that is mapped out for him. He cruises through his classes, dreaming of something better. Finally, after another tumultuous argument with his father, Chris decides it is time to leave and seek something different – it is time to find himself. The only person he can think to go to on that cold winter’s evening was his waitress friend, Magda, a woman old enough to be his mother, but with all the beauty and latent allure that only a mature woman can have over an impressionable, young, testosterone-driven teenage boy. What he finds at Magda’s is hope and a new way of thinking.

This book definitely ranks near the top of coming of age novels I have read. Author James Campion Conway has a wonderful command of language and draws us into Chris’ tortured and questioning mind. Easy to read and incredibly easy to identify with, the story draws readers along on Chris’s voyage of self-discovery, both cheering and jeering the young man at times for his ignorance and his preconceptions. The character of Magda’s Hungarian father was beautifully drawn and his home-spun philosophy and pragmatic approach to life is a refreshing change in this era of entitlement. The Vagabond King: A Coming of Age Story asks the questions that all of us asked at one time or another; what is the meaning of life? Who or what controls our fates and destinies? What is the right direction for me to take? A smooth and seamless read that just flowed by. I especially appreciated the poetry of the character Atman O’Dey, another young man tortured by uncertainty over identity and fitting in. This is a powerful story, beautifully told and well worth the highest rating I can give it.

Kim Anisi

Chris is the young hero in The Vagabond King by James Campion Conway. Chris’s mother died when he was only 16 years old, and he also has to live with the knowledge that his father is not truly his father. After his mother’s death, the two have a weird relationship and Chris decides that it’s in his best interests to run away and start a new life. School does not interest him, and his plans for the future never excited him. He seeks the help of Magda, a local waitress who is a lot older than him. When he turns up in front of her door, his life changes forever. Magda lives with her old father, who is the only reason why Magda does not send Chris away again. Her father also makes Chris take on a job, and the teenager soon hates his new life: sleeping on the floor, working a hard job, and having to listen to the old man’s stories. As the weeks pass, however, Chris learns valuable lessons and makes discoveries about life he never expected to make.

The Vagabond King by James Campion Conway is a coming of age story that surprised me with where it was going in the end. I found it rather pleasing though, and it’s always nice to be surprised after having read hundreds of books in your life time! I enjoyed the pace of the novel. It’s a calm story, exciting in a different kind of way. It entertains you, but it also makes you think about life, about the people around you, and about whether you’ve made the right choices along the way. It also makes you think about family, and whether you can really know yourself without knowing your family’s history. I found it interesting and a nice read, even though I don’t quite agree with some of the ideas within the pages. If you like thoughtful coming of age stories where characters have to find themselves during difficult circumstances, and with a dash of history thrown in, I’d definitely recommend this book!

Christian Sia

The Vagabond King: A Coming of Age Story by James Campion Conway is a well-written novel that explores the question of identity and follows the young protagonist’s personal growth. Life was good for sixteen-year-old Chris until the death of his mother. Then came the discovery that the man he's always known as his father isn’t, in fact, his real father. His desire to discover his roots is so strong that he sets out on a journey to find out. Will he find the answer in a woman, Magda, who has an obsession with sex or the shady old man, her father, with tons of stories of Communist Hungary? This is a tale of grit with strong historical underpinnings and characters that readers will want to follow.

James Campion Conway takes readers into the very hearts of his characters and allows them to touch their pain and despair, to experience the occasional hope that there could be a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. The writing is atmospheric, the narrative filled with emotion. The author’s gift for character comes out brilliantly and the storytelling style is enriched by a quirkiness that emerges in the way characters are portrayed and the tone of the story. The author uses literary elements like humor, contrast, sarcasm, and satire to enrich the story, succeeding in keeping the reader’s focus from one exciting page to the next. From the very beginning, I was interested in the protagonist and couldn’t help wanting to see what would become of him and if he could discover his roots. The story is real and exciting. The Vagabond King: A Coming of Age Story is filled with adventure and humanity and I found myself connected to the protagonist and caring about him.

K.C. Finn

The Vagabond King: A Coming Of Age Story is a mature work of fiction for young adults by author James Campion Conway. Our hero is Chris who, at age sixteen, discovers the truth about his parentage when his mother dies. Lied to by the man he thought was his father, Chris heads out into the world on his own terms, only to fall in with an older woman and her foul father. In this grim reality, Chris learns new and interesting lessons about life when the old man begins to explain his life in the old days of Communist Hungary. A new perspective of the world opens to Chris as he watches this grim history be repeated in new ways in the modern day.

Due to some graphic content, I’d definitely recommend this tale to the adult and near-adult end of the YA scale, but it’s a worthwhile read about the realities of modern life and trying to recover from the damage which is done to us. Chris is a well crafted and relatable young man, unheroic and realistic in his poor decisions and emotional arc. James Campion Conway certainly puts a lot into his three central characters, allowing their strong narrative force to bring both the past and present to life. As the tales of history and heroism take over, the parallels drawn with modern life are stark and clever, and Conway’s prose cuts through the revelations with strong dialogue and imagery. Overall, I’d recommend The Vagabond King for mature readers looking for a powerful and realistic tale.

Ruffina Oserio

James Campion Conway’s The Vagabond King is a coming of age story with strongly developed themes and compelling characters. A young man suddenly learns that the man he’d known as his father isn’t his father, and this discovery follows the painful loss of his mother. The narrative takes readers on his search for answers, a search that puts him face to face with himself and compels him to consider the question of meaning. Chris becomes a vagabond and his encounters with misery and hardship, with a woman who loves sex and a drunk, are just starters in an adventure that is about to change him completely.

This is an interesting story with a clear plot structure. I was pulled in by the powerful premise — the young protagonist has just lost his mother and then he realizes that his father isn’t even his to claim. The theme of loneliness is developed in a way that adds to the realism of the narrative and readers can feel it in Magda, who thinks that sex can ease the burden of loneliness, and her immigrant father who easily drowns himself in beer. The social commentaries are well done and they are so brilliantly written into the story that they add to its entertainment potential while highlighting elements of the setting. The prose is crisp and rich and I enjoyed the timely paragraph breaks and the exciting dialogues. The Vagabond King is an engaging read with a protagonist that readers can easily connect with, a well-developed character dealing with a powerful conflict.