Book: The Shadow Throne (Ascendance Trilogy, Book 3)
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen
Age Range: 10-14
The Shadow Throne is the conclusion to Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy, after The False Prince and The Runaway King (links go to my reviews of those titles). I found the first part of The Shadow Throne difficult to read due to excessive bleakness (including torture). But once I got through that part (and I never doubted that Jaron would get through it), the rest of the book was an exciting race to a thrilling and clever ending.
As The Shadow Throne begins, King Jaron's country is at war, besieged on all sides by enemies (some who were once allies). The woman he loves (if he could but admit it to himself) has been taken hostage, and the woman he is betrothed to, a Princess, is in danger. He does have the loyalty of his core team and of his people. But it's going to take every trick in Jaron's arsenal, and then some, for Carthya to make it through the war intact.
The Shadow Throne retains the best aspects of the prior two books: Jaron's voice and Nielsen's thorough worldbuilding. Jaron retains his core determination under even the harshest of conditions. He bends, he grieves, he almost breaks, but then he's back to his sarcastic and sometimes reckless self. Here are a couple of snippets:
"Then I ran over to Imogen, whose honey brown eyes blazed with disapproval. I knew she'd be angry with me -- she often was. I rarely blamed her for that since, admittedly, I usually deserved it. But this time, it wasn't the sort of anger I could laugh off. We remained in a very dangerous situation."(Page 68)
""I told you to humble him," Vargan said to his men. "Does he look humble?"
In all fairness to his soldiers, until the moment I spit on their king, I probably had looked pretty humble." (Page 105)
In addition to plenty of action (much of it centered around battles and escapes), The Shadow Throne includes a bit of romance, an appreciation for friendship, and aspects of a coming-of-age novel. One thing that I especially like in this book is the way that, despite writing about a fairly traditional, male dominated civilization (the men go to battle, the women cook), Nielsen creates strong female characters, too. Princess Amarinda is smart and tenacious, as is Imogen, though the two young women are quite different from one another. And there's a wonderful scene in which the local women turn out to protect a surrounded city. (The army captain says: "The men may have fought for this city, but it will be the women who save it.")
Nielsen's plotting is strong in The Shadow Throne, too. This would actually be an enjoyable book to re-read, knowing the ending, to review all of the clues that she has planted along the way. It all comes together in a highly satisfying finish.
I will say that The Shadow Throne, even more so than the other books in the series, is quite dark in places, and not for the faint of heart. I think it's more a middle school book, or even a high school book, than a middle grade novel. The publisher lists it on Amazon as being for ages 10-14, but I personally see it fitting better at the higher end of that range (and going up to adults). It is certainly boy- and girl-friendly.
The key to enjoying The Shadow Throne, I think, lies in trusting in Jaron's cleverness and resilience, which keeps even the darkest situations from seeming impossible. Don't even think of reading this book out of order. But for those who like dashing adventures with kings and pirates, leavened with humor, The Ascendance Trilogy is not to be missed. Fans of the series will be pleased with The Shadow Throne, I think, particularly the last 2/3 of the book.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
FTC Required Disclosure:
This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).