Book Review No 20: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy, book 2
Genre: Low Fantasy (YA/Middle Grade)
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Typical level of fantasy violence/bloodshed, two characters killed in-scene, various references to devils as oaths, presence of pirates, branding irons, implied innuendo, thievery and layers of deception necessary in political drama. Should be fine for most MG readers and all YA fantasy lovers.
Completion Date: December 29, 2019
BookmarkedOne Rating: 8/10
Spoiler Warning for The Ascendance Trilogy 1: The False Prince!
Finally, it’s time for another book review! Quick apology here for the delay due to my crazy schedule/happy irresponsibility running off to play fiddle for a band of knights.
Yup, you read that right. Anyway.
After falling in love with The False Prince, it was just a matter of time before I got my hands on this sequel.
And I did! At the last Epic Library Sale! In super-almost-perfect condition hardcover! It seemed to be waiting for me. And the designs for these books are really gorgeous. Everything I want in a fantasy cover.
Getting to the story…
The Runaway King picks up almost where The False Prince left off, with Jaron trying to find his place as the new young king of Carthya. Except, of course, somebody wants to kill him/take his throne/pretend Carthya never existed.
He wouldn’t be Jaron if someone didn’t.
I expected some high-stakes political drama spiced with mystery after the first book.
I got it, but it wasn’t in the way I expected!
Rather than leave Jaron to stifle in lace cuffs and council meetings and courtly politics, Nielsen does something entirely different–shouts pirates and sends him off on a long ride with a sword, a knife, and a terrible plan, straight into the arms of danger.
This is the point I settle back in my reading cubby and say I’m not going anywhere for a while.
Per usual, it took a little while for the story to warm up. I had the same problem with The False Prince–give it a while, and then you’ll find you can’t put it down. That point this time was shortly after Jaron strikes out on his own and we get Favorite New Side Character #1.
I seriously loved all the scenes with Harlowe. The tension, the misunderstandings, the affection–Every once in a while, an author will introduce a big-hearted character I just want to attack with a bear hug. Harlowe was definitely one of them. I’m hoping for more in book 3.
To be fair…
There are other good characters. Fink, for one, the boy on the streets that starts tagging along with Jaron on his adventures. Even though I’ve seen his character trope before…I didn’t mind seeing it again.
And of course we can’t forget our characters returning from the last book–Mott, Tobias, Imogen, Amarinda, and a few others. I’ve grown quite fond of Mott in particular and the interplay between him and Jaron is perfect.
Other good stuff…
Jaron decides to take the “Hero’s Journey” on the traditional route–by himself, in the most dangerous way possible, and not telling anyone else even a sliver of his plans so he is certain to get hurt and everyone else is certain not to.
Sorry, but I love that. For some reason watching him keep his secrets and fight with his friends to keep them safe makes for splendidly good reading.
Perhaps it’s because we all know something about our lives the rest of the world doesn’t. Because at one point or another, we’ve all had dazzlingly brilliant plans to fix everything, to make everything perfect that we can’t share. Not yet.
Perhaps it’s just a fantasy theme I’ve written on too much–about the most dangerous thing in your life being yourself, so you have to push everyone away for now so you can keep them close one day. Safe.
It’s instinct, when it’s you against the world.
I was a little miffed that we never got out on the open sea. When Jaron said he was out to find pirates, I can’t be the only one thinking about the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series or the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. Yes! New sights! New places! Salt spray!
Nope. These pirates are on land as much as on sea. And while Nielsen makes it work really well, so we hardly miss the sailing…
…it’s a little misleading. I would have loved to see Jaron at the prow of a ship.
Nielsen tends to keep her books very clean, which I appreciate, but it seemed as if this one was the faintest shade darker as far as boys and girls were concerned. Still very clean, but something to be aware of for those with younger readers.
The ending was also…maybe a little too perfect for my tastes in places, and of course sets up the third book rather than having the firm feeling of completion present in the first.
Is it as good as the first one?
Well…in my personal opinion, no. Sequels usually aren’t because you know what to expect. But in some ways, that’s how the middle book is supposed to be: remember all that cool stuff we did in book 1? We’re going to build up a wave to come crashing down on your protagonists in book 3. Even The Two Towers doesn’t give you a clean ending. And we shall not say Tolkien is wrong…so it must be right.
And besides. We’ve got all of the snarkiness of book 1 back again in new ways. And who doesn’t love a book where your protagonist gets banged up a little bit? Or a lot bit? With technical details on escapes (Nielsen is so good at those!)? Definitely no middle-grade “protagonist immunity to all ills,” which is highly satisfactory.
Am I going to read the next one?