Why Roald is Going to be a Better King Than Jonathan
1. Roald is way more politically savvy than Jonathan. Granted, he has the benefit of Jonathan and Thayet passing along their wisdom, and the lessons they learned while they were growing up and learning how to rule a country. But comparing Roald’s behavior as a page and squire to Jonathan’s behavior during the same period in his life, Roald demonstrates a profound understanding of his position as crown prince and that his actions will be attributed to the position rather than him as a person. This is why he never joined in Kel’s patrols to stop the practice of bullying and hazing under Wyldon’s tenure as training master. It’s why he took care to divide his time among all of the pages, not spending all of his time with just one group of people.
Compare that with Jonathan, who very much used his position as crown prince to direct his fellow pages’ behavior. He and his close friends administered a beating to Ralon after he had broken “Alan’s” arm. Roald never would have done such a thing. Neither would Roald have disobeyed the direct orders of his commanding officer to conduct a risky rescue mission behind enemy lines as Jonathan did, banking on his identity as crown prince to keep him and his rescue party from punishment - which would have been death for any other person who had attempted it. By contrast, Roald did his duty as a healer, far behind the front lines, during the Scanran War.
2. Roald is more progressive than Jonathan. Is Jonathan a progressive king? Yes, of course he is. But he’s not perfect, and in some ways he has some serious blind spots. Really what brought this entire post on was seeing parts of the Tortall fandom hating a little on Kel for acknowledging that she could never like Jonathan. She is right not to like him. He treated her differently for political reasons. He allowed others to treat her differently for political and bigoted reasons. Were his hands tied by political considerations? Yeah, probably. That doesn’t make Kel’s year as a probationary page right, and we have no reason to believe he would have intervened if Wyldon had been less honorable, and denied Kel her right to stay and train after that first year. Lucky Jonathan. He got to placate the conservatives and received one of the realm’s finest knights in return. That was a win-win situation for him, that trampled all over Kel and made her experience more difficult than it should have been.
Roald was good friends with Kel during their time as pages. He saw what she went through and how she dealt with it. He saw what she went through specifically because she was training openly as a girl. Jonathan heard second-hand what Alanna’s experience was like, but during his time as a page he never saw “Alan” as anything but a smaller-than-average boy. And even Alanna’s experience was different than Kel’s, training as a boy and only revealing her true self after winning her shield. Jonathan also hurt Alanna by not allowing her any contact with Kel during her page and squire years. Pissing off the Lioness to the extent that she avoids Corus for years shows the depth of her anger there - but again, placating conservatives was more important than a lifetime of faithful service and friendship.
Jonathan also talked Roald’s sister Kalasin out of being the first openly-female page, which so enraged Thayet that there was significant tension between them for an entire year. Now, there would have been political issues with Kalasin training for knighthood, but Jonathan’s particular grievance was that it would ruin her marriageability and she needed to marry in order to strengthen Tortall’s alliances. This is a different kind of duty than knighthood, and one that Kalasin took on - but again, it was due to Jonathan placating conservatives for political reasons.
3. Roald is in a better position to be both a good person and a good ruler. When Kel was trying to process her feelings about Jonathan, she recalled something her father said during their time in the Yamani Isles. The Yamani Emperor ordered a mass execution of not only a group of criminals, but their families as well. "Rulers are seldom nice people, Kel. Even good ones make choices that will hurt somebody.“ Jonathan, Thayet and all of the others of their generation (Alanna, Raoul, Buri, Gary, etc.) have done difficult, slow work getting Tortall into a position to make great progress. This is why Jonathan has done some of the things he has, although arguments can still be made as to whether those decisions were the best ones he could have made. Roald and Shinko are now able to take that work and build on it, when Roald eventually takes the throne. He has done his own work, demonstrating his political awareness and public temperament that will enable him to work with nobles and commoners alike.
Kel is not wrong to feel the way she does about Jonathan. She doesn’t have the benefit of having read Alanna and Daine’s stories, like we have. But Jonathan has wronged her - that’s beyond dispute. And he is lucky to have her, because she’ll do her duty by him in spite of it all.