Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Shadow Throne

The Shadow Throne
by Jennifer Nielsen
Recommended Ages: 12+

In this concluding installment of the Ascendance trilogy, Jaron, the boy king of Carthya, has scarcely recovered from securing the additional job of pirate king when he finds his country at war with three surrounding enemies. The main foe is King Vargan of Avenia, who is tired of Jaron standing in the way of his plots to make Carthya the first conquest of his hoped-for empire. Vargan proves he will stop at nothing, including taking hostage the girl Jaron loves, capturing and torturing his most trusted adviser, and treating the young king himself - once he falls into Vargan's trap - like the common thief he once pretended to be. But each time Jaron and his kingdom seem past saving, the young scamp pulls off another amazing trick.

Can he keep it up, though, when hundreds, even thousands of his citizens are falling in battle against an enemy that knows no mercy? Can he keep fighting when each wall he is backed against looms higher, and a leg injury has taken away his ability to climb? Can he defend the people he loves when Vargan seems to have a genius for using that love against him? Read and see - and weep, and laugh, and be amazed.

In contrast to what I did, I recommend reading this book in swift succession with the rest of the trilogy, to make it easier to keep track of past developments that prove significant in the finale. They are memorable enough stories, however, that I think a little prompting will bring back Jaron's earlier feats, such as turning enemies into devoted followers, surviving assassination attempts, convincing a traitorous nobleman to set him up as a pretender to the throne that is actually his, etc. Jaron's exploits have the gosh-wow appeal of tall tales featuring a ne'er-do-well-who-makes-good type of hero, along with a touching survey of the heart of a really noble young man. His character is complicated in just the right way, and to just the right degree, to engage young readers who may need nothing more than a fun hero to root for. Whatever "ascendance" means, here's a young man who goes through hell, and puts us through suspense that seems close to the same, without losing hope, or goodness, or the sense of adventure. It is a great relief for me, to know such heroes are still being written into being.

The first two books of the Ascendance trilogy were The False Prince and The Runaway King. Other titles by Jennifer Nielsen include the Underworld Chronicles (Elliot and the Goblin War and two more), the Mark of the Thief trilogy, A Night Divided, and The Scourge.

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