The Shadow Throne

It hasn’t been more than ten months since I picked up The False Prince and started Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy. I remember it was the title that got me interested, along with a lovely cover. The story seemed promising and I consumed it fast. I read the sequel soon after, The Runaway King, and liked it equally. It is with a melancholy feeling I finished The Shadow Throne and with that the entire series. Luckily, Nielsen brought her A-game for this one.

King Jaron and his country Carthya stands in front of their biggest battle to date. War rage all around them and Jaron is doing all he can to keep Carthya his and his people safe. But attacked at all sides and with far more enemies then allies, things seem dark. Jaron needs his best wits and a great deal of luck to get out of this one alive. He never wanted to be king and was raised as the younger prince before living the life as an orphan named Sage. Now he has a country on his back and thousands of lives to care for. Will King Vargan and Avenia be too big of a threat, especially now that they have kidnapped the woman he love, or will Jaron do the impossible and survive against all odds?

Important to remember is that this story is made for teenagers, if not children, though there is a fair amount of brutality involved. I would guess the trilogy is aimed at twelve to fifteen year olds, most likely boys. I, as a woman past twenty, enjoyed it nonetheless. My point is that if you read it and find it childish then that’s the explanation. Don’t take this is a reason not to read, because despite it being something more of a childs' tale this is wonderful and I loved it.

It’s a story filled with thrilling moments and a lot of action – the third book is certainly no exception at that. Every page was either filled with battle or plotting to get out of a problematic situation Jaron’s already in or to avoid getting into later on. It’s true that he has a tendency to end up with shackles around his wrists and a sword pointed at his throat, but he also seems to have a never-ending store of creative ways to escape, much to Carthya’s delight, and need. They’re victims of one man’s greed and only have their reckless and downright crazy Ascendance King to turn to. Luckily, Jaron usually has an ace (or a stolen key) up his sleeve.

In the first two books we met an orphan named Sage who is recruited by a nobleman along with two other boys to be turned into the long-lost prince Jaron, believed to have dies years ago. The plan of nobleman, Connor, is to reinstate a false prince and gain control of the country after the king, queen and crown prince are assassinated. After a while we learn that Conner hit the jackpot since Sage is the true prince; Jaron. The second book fixates on his return to the capital and castle where he takes his rightful place, in a role he never wanted. He ends up in a lot of trouble but somehow manages to get away from it only to find out that his kingdom is threatened and at the brink of war. That’s where the third book takes off and it turns out to be a never-ending battle that just moves from one location to the next. In the end Jaron most trust that all will be well, even if the world around him is crumbling to dust.

Jaron is a great character. In the beginning I found him cocky and arrogant, which he certainly is, but as the story go on I learned to appreciate this trait of his. He is sassy and mischievous and he never does what anyone tells him just for the principle of it. He was once known as a boy who brought nothing but trouble to court and was always found doing things he wasn’t supposed to. He lived for years on the streets after his father struck a deal with him. When he returned to the throne, Jaron had picked up even more pranks and tricks that turned out to save him more than once. He is sarcastic and always have a nasty remark to throw in the direction of his enemies. You need to learn to appreciate his sassiness to appreciate the character Jaron, but once you do it so worth it. His sarcasm is in the lines of my own and he made me laugh more than once.

Another important character is his love, Imogen. Jaron has had an eye on her since book one but it never seemed like they would make it work, not least since he was betrothed to the princess of Bymar, Amarinda. Imogen is stubborn and as strong-headed as Jaron which sets up some nice bickering and fights between them. In The Shadow Throne she’s kidnapped by King Vargan and used as a bait to draw out Jaron and she has the chance to show both him and the world that she is loyal to her country and her king. She’s a great addition to the book not least because she can stand up to Jaron – someone who always seems to know the answers to everything, or so he likes to believe.

Other characters worth mentioning are of course the ever-loyal Tobias, one of the other two boys Conner tried to turn into the long-lost prince. He stands beside Jaron through it all along with princess Amarinda who is far from the damsel a princess usually is in fairytales. Mott is Jaron’s servant who’ve also been along for the ride since book one. My love for Mott grew with each passing page since he showed time and time again that he would never let his king down. The captain of Jaron’s guard, Roden, is the third boy which Connor recruited in The False Prince, also a character who stands by Jaron’s side through thick and thin. Fink, an Avenian boy who follows Jaron around like a dog didn’t get extremely much page-time but showed his courage time and time again. What all these characters have in common is that they are loyal, fearless and brave. They don’t hesitate to put their lives at stake if it’s the right thing to do and I liked them very much.

There’s an arsenal of villains in this one, the biggest one of all being King Vargan. He is ruthless and cares for nothing but his own motives, which is to become the emperor of both Avenia and Carthya. He uses everyone and everything in his path to get what he wants and is a typical greedy character gaping for more, not realizing that the fall from the top is the highest one of all. He was evil but nice in the role of the villain, though I would’ve liked seeing his horrendous actions a little more closely at times. Often it was not what he did but what he said he had done or would do that reached the reader. To see something instead of hearing of it would’ve deepened the horribleness that was Vargan.

The writing was good, though like I mentioned earlier, clearly aimed for younger readers. But it’s a good story with a lot of plot twists, some which I didn’t even figure out myself and I take pride in that I usually knows what’s going to happen in a story. Jaron’s tricks and pranks are fun and I loved how he always seemed to have a way out of even the trickiest situation. He’s slippery as an eel and singlehandedly carried this story into my heart.

The ending was nice in a way that endings to most series are. And like with the end of most series I wished it would’ve been longer. The last chapter was only three pages and it didn’t feel nearly long enough to sum everything up. I would’ve liked more, much more, but then again, I’m very invested in both the story and its characters. It was nice, however, not to learn every little detail of the fate of every single character and even nicer that you didn’t get to see everything fall into place for everyone. Nielsen left some space for the reader to conjure up the future for those who survived the war and I liked that. I’m sad and melancholy to see this story come to an end but I take comfort in knowing that they’re waiting for me on my bookshelf whenever I choose to return to Carthya again.