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The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy: Jennifer A. Nielsen

Book: The Runaway King: Book 2 of the Ascendance Trilogy
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen (@NielsenWriter)
Pages: 352
Age Range: 10 and up 

The Runaway King is the second book in Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy, following last year's The False Prince. The Runaway King is that rare second book of a trilogy that completely holds up. If you haven't read The False Prince, stop here, because there will be spoilers for the first book (though not the second). Just go read it. The False Prince is fabulous. 

While The Runaway King lacks the unforgettable solo twist that characterized The False Prince, Nielsen compensates by repeatedly upping the stakes for Sage/Jaron, now King of Carthya. In order to save his kingdom, and himself, Sage sets off in disguise on a dangerous quest. There are pirates, surprises, and betrayals. There are swordfights, ethical dilemmas, and enemies (old and new). But there are also new friends and allies for Jaron, and a much better understanding, by the end of the book, of who his friends really are.  

Nielsen's plotting is multi-layered and adept, and will keep readers eagerly turning pages. The very first line of the book is "I had arrived early for my own assassination." Who could stop reading after that? Well, the whole book is like that. You simply can't put it down. 

But what I personally love most about this series, and this book, is the character of Jaron. His central character trait is stubbornness. He is the very personification of the expression "loyal to a fault." He is self-deprecating in his speech, but in a endlessly entertaining sort of way. Like this:

"I nodded, and when Kerwyn entered the room, Mott made an excuse about finding more alcohol and left. I thought he looked a little exasperated when he glanced back, but people often did when they talked with so it was hardly worth noting." (Page 40)

and this: 

"Erick continued to look at me. "I think I may grow to hate you before this is over."

"You don't already and that's got to be some sort of record."

To my surprise, Erick laughed." (Page 161)

Here is one more passage that shows you Jaron's character:

"This had become my favorite place on the frequent occasions when I needed to get away from everyone. The bright springtime flowers were surrounded by tall, dense hedges and lined with plants of every variety. Majestic trees kept the view from above concealed through most seasons of the year, and the grass was soft enough to make bare feet nearly mandatory." (Page 2)

I love that "to make bare feet nearly mandatory." Just listen to the way I talk about this character. It is as though he is real. I predict that we'll see him in a movie or three one day.

The Runaway King has a strong central character, complex supporting characters (I love Mott), an action-packed plot, and a fully realized setting. No sophomore slump for Jennifer Nielsen, that's for sure. This is a perfect book to give to kids who love adventure. Though it's set in an imaginary, medieval sort of land, there are no magical elements to the story. But there are pirates! A map of the pirate camp is included at the start of the book, as a hint to where things are going. 

Highly recommended for middle grade readers as well as teens, boys and girls. But make sure they read The False Prince first. As for me, I'm already looking forward to Book 3. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it at a book signing

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