Book Review: The Runaway King’s Step Forward Feels a Bit Like a Step Backward

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Spoilers for both this and its prequel, but more for the prequel than this.

I greatly enjoyed The False Prince, the first book in Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy. When the sequel, The Runaway King, was recently released in paperback, I quickly snatched it up. The book all but opens with a violent sword fight and the threat of pirates. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the action of these first few chapters, during which I found myself smiling over the cover to tell coworkers how much they would love this book and then reading a line or two to them or explaining bits of the plot. That momentum carried me easily to the next fight and that the momentum of that to the following fight, etc. till the conclusion, and then I was propelled towards a yearning for the third book (not as of yet acquired) by a cliffhanger.

Some of what I most loved about The False Prince was missing from The Runaway King: the unreliable narration of Sage’s/Jaron’s, the surprise that I felt at the revelation of what he had been doing and thinking behind other characters’ and the readers’ backs. I tell myself—and I think I am right—that the absence of that unreliable narration, the withholding of information that allowed me to be surprised is the direct result of Jaron’s character growth, and so as much as I missed being surprised, I cannot fault the greater honesty of the narration. Jaron now has more people whom he trusts and is trusted by more people. Because he is more honest with his friends—having legitimate friends for the first time in a very long time—he cannot be as dishonest with himself as the first person narrator, his friends, or the reader. That desire for friends, for trust, to be trusted is going to get him in trouble both in this and in the next book I predict, however.

The plot of this story revolves around Jaron’s desire to find Roden, who had near the end of The False Prince challenged Sage for the throne one last time and who had been sent away before Sage could reveal himself truly to be Jaron. Jaron in The Runaway King claims to have believed that he and Roden were friends prior to the poisoning of Roden’s mind by the greedy servant Cregan. A threat from this same Roden to surrender or see his kingdom destroyed by pirates, who will be begin by destroying those closest to Jaron distracts Jaron from that personal quest and moves him towards two more urgent quests: defending his country without surrendering himself and protecting his throne from the machinations of his regents who are considering putting a steward in his place to rule till Jaron comes of age.

Emily at More Than One Page makes an excellent point when she remarks that first and third books are often better than the second.

The end of The Runaway King pushes the reader towards the third book, The Shadow Throne, recently released in hardcover. It was almost a cliffhanger worthy of Rick Riordan (I’m still both impressed by and bitter about the ending of The Mark of Athena). This book just escapes being a bridge book in my mind. Little happens with regards to the overarching plot of the war for Carthya (Jaron’s kingdom) till the last pages. Jaron and his countrymen are reevaluating the set up of their government. Dangerous men are being unmasked. Jaron is putting friends in high places. I will be very interested to see how those favored friends will be received by better-established officials in The Shadow Throne.

The book still in my opinion teeters on being acceptable for mature middle-grade readers even though it’s marketed for teens. Many of the reviews on Goodreads put a lot more emphasis on the romantic triangle of the series than I as yet feel is particularly warranted by the text. These books are still to me adventure and survival stories more than they are romances. The Amarinda-Jaron-Imogen romance is nowhere near as prominent or heart-fluttering for me as Percabeth, and Riordan’s books are deemed (though perhaps the later ones are becoming less so) appropriate for middle-grade readers.

I look forward to The Shadow Throne and being able to give you my opinion of the completed story arc and the series as a whole.

****

Nielsen, Jennifer A.  The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 2: The Runaway King.  New York: Scholastic, 2014. First published 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Jennifer A. Nielsen or Scholastic Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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