Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King! Quoted from Goodreads
I actually heard Jennifer Nielsen speak a couple of weeks ago at a conference I went to, which was really kind of awesome. She was on a panel talking about writing action, and while I really appreciated what she said then, I have even more respect for her after having read this book. The False Prince was good, as far as action goes, but The Runaway King is better. It really upped the stakes and kept me turning pages as Jaron went from one perilous situation to the next, all in an effort to save his kingdom. I mean, the book starts with the sentence, "I had arrived early for my own assassination." That kind of sets the whole tone of the book right there, and it just keeps getting better.
All the action wouldn't really matter, or at least you wouldn't care as much about it, if you didn't care about Jaron himself. I think he's kind of a hard character to write. On one hand, it would be fun because he's delightfully sarcastic, funny, and smarter than he lets on. On the other hand, because the book is written if first person, he has to be a somewhat unreliable narrator or else the reader would know what he planned from the beginning and the twists would be ruined. I think it's a hard line to walk, and sometimes he comes off as a bit of a jerk because of it. You know he's trying to do what is best for the kingdom in the long run, but he hurts people along the way, and sometimes it's only after the fact that you can really see why he chose to do what he did. Still, I really like him as a character. He's young, untrained, and in a horrible situation, but he never gives up (or stops making funny side comments) or stops trying, and you have to love that.
As for the love angle of this book, it's almost not worth mentioning, but of course I will. It's not what drives the plot at all, but it does play more of a role here than in The False Prince. First we get the poor princess Amarinda, who Jaron never really gives much of a chance and you don't really know at first if she really is good or bad, but later we learn she's smart and actually,perhaps, the perfect match for Jaron. On the other side, we have Imogen. Here we get the impossible love, the girl who wants to help him, will do just about anything for him, but who is also friends with the Amarinda and not planning on getting in the way of her and Jaron's relationship. She also plays a bit of a role in the cliffhanger. So to sum it all up, I have no idea who Jaron's going to get with in the end, but I don't really have a preference. I'm content to see how Jennifer Nielsen handles the whole business.
Now for the villains of our story. I really did enjoy them quite a bit. Of course, King Vargen was my favorite, though he's not the main obstacle in this first book. He's deliciously power hungry and easy to hate. Then we have the pirates themselves. Despite the book painting them as the worst villains ever, they could have stepped straight from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (you'll note how I picked the first movie specifically? Yeah, those pirates). They have a code they refuse to break, they don't touch the girls serving them, are loosely loyal to their king and country, and while they may rob, plunder, and murder, they aren't evil incarnate. Then we get the beautiful, lovely twist, who I won't talk about, but it really was a great moment in the plot when you figure someone who you thought was kind of good turns out not to be.
Now that we've covered the basics, it has to be mentioned (as I'm sure it's been mentioned before). This book reminds me of Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, and subsequent novels. The False Prince and Runaway King are simpler, and a bit lighter, especially as the series goes on (not that they don't have a few heartbreaking and difficult moments), but there are some definite similarities. If you like The Thief, you'll really enjoy this series, though The Runaway King stays on about the same level as The False Prince, where I feel the Queen of Attolia and subsequent books grow up a bit more, dealing with harder issues.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this second installment in The Ascendance Trilogy (yes, that's what it's called, if you didn't know). It's a nail-biting 4 stars for me, and I can't wait for the third book to come out. The cliffhanger at the end of the second was a bit of a set up, I mean, you knew it was coming, but I still can't wait to see what happens next and how Jaron will handle everything.