The Runaway King, by Jennifer A. Nielsen (review)

February 27, 2013 fantasy, MG books, The False Prince, The Runaway King, YA fantasy 0

Jennifer A. Nielsen has done it again!  The Runaway King delivers all the excitement and thrills of its best-selling predecessor, The False Prince.  
[Warning: this review contains some spoilers for Book 1.]
Things are not going smoothly for the newly crowned King Jaron.  The neighboring kingdom of Avenia continues to make demands and threatens Carthya’s borders.  The Avenian pirates, aided by an old friend, are still determined to kill Jaron after their failed attempt four years earlier.  Jaron’s own regents are considering replacing him with a steward until he comes of age — and there might be another traitor within their ranks.  When Jaron discovers that Avenia and the pirates may join forces to wage war on Carthya, it appears his only option is to find a way to neutralize the pirate threat… personally.
What I loved:  Sage is back, as clever, secretive, stubborn, and proud as ever.  This time, however, the traits that kept him alive as a prince-in-hiding are likely get him killed – and possibly others as well.  Imogen plays a large role in this book, and we see Mott, Amarinda, Tobias, and even Roden again as well.  We also meet some new characters, some likable, some decidedly not.  
The plot of The Runaway King is every bit as convoluted and suspenseful as The False Prince, and the pace rarely falters; it kept me on the edge of my seat.  Jaron/Sage’s narrative voice is perfect, and because I’d read the first book, I continually wondered what he wasn’t telling me.  Watching him needlessly alienate some of his friends for their own good was painful, but it fits his character perfectly.  So does the rashness which nearly leads to disaster for both Jaron and Carthya – a closer brush with failure and death than in the last book.  Jaron’s relationship with both Imogen and Amarinda also develops in this book, in expected and unexpected ways.
What didn’t quite work:  There comes a point at which a character makes an almost 180-degree turn.  Nielsen gave several hints that this was a possibility, and I was able to believe it of the character himself.  However, it happens in a context involving a number of other players, and I found it hard to believe that they would accept this turn of events as easily as they did.  It didn’t spoil the book for me, but it left me a little off-balance.  It will be interesting to see whether the status quo vis-à-vis those other characters still holds in the third book.  Jaron also makes a choice regarding a traitor’s punishment that I felt uncomfortable with; I thought it was both a little too ruthless and a little too indifferent (an odd combination, I know) to quite fit with his personality.  
Conclusion:   I loved The Runaway King!  I tore through it in a few hours and was sorry when I reached the end. The issues I mentioned above barely dented my overall enjoyment, and I can hardly wait until the third book to come out (probably sometime in 2014.)   Fans of The False Prince will not be disappointed: The Runaway King will pull you in and keep you reading late into the night.
*   *   *

Rating: 4 ½  stars
Recommended if you like: The False Prince (Nielsen); Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series

Category: MG/YA fantasy
Series: Ascendance Trilogy #2
Publisher: Scholastic (March 1, 2013, but Amazon already has it in stock)
Book Source: publisher’s review copy receive through NetGalley

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