Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication Date: March 2013
Hardcover: 352 Pages
A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction. A king gone missing. Who will survive? Find out in the highly anticipated sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen’s blockbuster THE FALSE PRINCE!
Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King!
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Ascendance Trilogy
How did I get this book: e-ARC from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): e-ARC via NetGalley
Why did I read this book: I absolutely adored The False Prince, book one in this planned trilogy – in fact, it was one of my top 10 books of 2012! Needless to say, I was very excited for this second book, although I was approaching it with ridiculously high expectations.
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for The False Prince. If you have not read book 1 and want to remain unspoiled, look away! You have been warned.**
Young Jaron – Sage that was – has ascended to the throne and accepted his rightful place as the ruler of Carthya. On the day of his family’s funeral, Jaron, sick of his preening and power-hungry regents, decides to skip the services and instead takes to his gardens for time to reflect, alone. Unfortunately for Jaron, he is ambushed by an assassination attempt from none other than Roden, the former friend alongside whom Jaron trained as one of nobleman Bevin Conner’s candidates for the role of false prince. Poisoned by ambition and hate, Roden has thrown in with the pirates (incidentally, the same pirates that Jaron had escaped years earlier) and leaves Jaron with a warning – the Pirate King will not stop until Jaron is dead. Confronted with an impending attack from the buccaneers to the west and the neighboring Avenian King to the south, for the first time in decades Carthya faces the very real and imminent threat of war. Jaron turns to his guard and council of regents for support. Alas, Jaron has yet to win the support of his father’s court and the opportunistic captain of his guard neatly outmaneuvers the young King, forcing him to leave the capital and hide from other would-be assassins (while instituting himself as the Steward of the kingdom, of course).
Jaron hasn’t come so far and fought so hard just to roll over and give up his throne and his people, though, and takes matters into his own hands. In order to stop the Pirates from bleeding Carthya dry and clearing the path for an easy Avenian conquering, Jaron sheds his crown and leaves his country to stop the pirates at their source, once again assuming the raggedy mantle of street thief Sage.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Runaway King was one of – if not THE – most highly anticipated books of 2013 for me. I loved The False Prince with the force of a thousand thunderstorms, for its clever politics, it’s wonderful plot, and most of all, its star: the wise-cracking, too-clever-for-his-own-good Sage. The problem with books that you love so much is the niggling worry that the next book might not live up to expectations. Thankfully, The Runaway King is a wonderfully entertaining book that holds its own against the very high standard set by The False Prince. While it isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, this middle novel in the trilogy is more than just mere filler, and advances the overall story – and Jaron’s arc – in a meaningful and worthwhile way. AND there are pirates. And duels. And daring escapes and late night liaisons. In other words, I really, really liked The Runaway King.
Middle book syndrome can be a terrible and frustrating thing, but thankfully The Runaway King succeeds by virtue of its strong characterizations and purposeful plot. As with the first book, the true standout of this novel is our King and erstwhile thief, Jaron/Sage, however he’s grown since the first book and at first, is in a bad way. He’s prickly and defensive, he won’t accept help from people, and infuriatingly he makes decisions for others before giving them the chance to explain their motivations or positions. This is incredibly frustrating when it comes to Jaron’s actions towards his friend Imogene, and towards his betrothed, Princess Amarinda. In the case of the former, he cares so much for Imogene that he decides – all on his own without asking or consulting the girl in question – that he is too dangerous a friend and so he sends her away with cruel words for her own good. In the case of the latter, Jaron judges Amarinda incredibly harshly, thinking her a traitor for befriending the Captain of his guard and the imprisoned Connor. Insert copious eye-rolling here. What is awesome about The Runaway King, however, is that this idiotic, macho attitude is called out by the characters in the text – Imogene talks over Jaron’s boorish behavior with Amarinda, and they figure out his motivations, and naturally they find a way to subvert his plans (ya know, by helping him in spite of his stubborn “I have to do this on my OWN” idiocy) and ultimately tell him what an ass he is being. Friends trust each other, and trust isn’t Jaron’s strong suit – but he learns this lesson by the end of the book (thanks in large part to the awesome, strong, confident characters of Amarinda and Imogene, of course).
I also love that for all the ridiculous shenanigans that Jaron pulls off – including scaling a cliff wall with a broken leg, challenging and ‘beating’ the Pirate King twice, he actually has to rely on people and friends. I think this message, more than any other, is what I liked the most about The Runaway King. It’s all well and good to be a cowboy and blaze the trail alone, but any true leader knows they are only as strong as their team – a fact that Jaron learns the hard way after pushing everyone away, isolating himself to the point where he is so weak that he may lose his kingdom. Of course, Jaron happens to have some really great friends, and makes some new ones besides in this book – in particular, I loved Fink and Erick. There’s also a nice, if slightly too-good-to-be-true arc that happens with Roden, Jaron’s would-be assassin.
On the plotting side, I actually enjoyed the over-the-top craziness of the nobles, thieves, pirates, and traitors Jaron meets on his journey. As I jokingly told Ana in an email, this book reminded me a lot of Pirates of the Caribbean in that there’s a strict Code to which the Pirates must adhere (and Jaron’s understanding of that code helps him gain parlance with the scallywags), as well as a Pirate King and a Tortuga-esque lair, amongst other things. AND it’s not just pirates! The Runaway King also features dastardly acts of treason alongside kind-hearted nobles (and not-so-kind-hearted-but-mostly-good thieves). A LOT happens in this book, ultimately leading to an inevitable war between the land-locked Carthya and its aggressive neighbors – but thankfully, Carthya has a King (and future Queen) that can step up to the challenge.
While not without its faults – including Jaron’s bizarre blend of pigheadedness and an inability to do anything wrong (I repeat: he scales a cliff with a broken leg and then fights in a duel on that same broken leg) – The Runaway King is a solid, rousing read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and eagerly await the dramatic finish to the Ascendance trilogy!
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I had arrived early for my own assassination.
It was the evening of my family’s funeral, and I should have already been at the chapel. But the thought of mourning alongside the arrogant coxcombs who would also be there sickened me. If I were anyone else, this would have been a private matter.
For a month, I had been the king of Carthya, a role for which I had never been prepared and which most Carthyans believed was entirely unsuitable for me. Even if I wanted to disagree, I had no credibility for such an argument. During these first weeks of my reign, courting favorable public opinion had hardly been my top priority. Instead, I had a much bigger task: convincing my regents to help prepare for a war I felt sure was coming.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
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