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Book review: 'The Runaway King' raises the stakes in a compelling sequel

"THE RUNAWAY KING," by Jennifer Nielsen, Scholastic Press, $17.99, 352 pages (f) (ages 11 and up)

Following in the footsteps of Jennifer Nielsen’s first novel in her Ascendance series, “The Runaway King” has all the same qualities that made the first so compelling, and raises the stakes for an equally worthy second novel.

Of the many things that made “The False Prince” a favorite read, the one that stands out the most is the character Sage. A little arrogant and stupid, but still sympathetic, Jaron takes on the persona of Sage again to save his kingdom from the threats — both from neighboring countries and internal political maneuverings — that loom overhead even in the shadow of the death of his family, including the king, queen and crown prince.

It's on the night of his family's royal funeral that Jaron is attacked and he formulates a plan to leave the castle and make an unlikely alliance with the marauding pirates who were originally thought to have killed him in the first book.

Through Nielsen’s masterful storytelling and not letting the reader immediately understand Jaron’s motivations, this new adventure that Jaron embarks on seems impossible, and his actions are sometimes morally questionable.

Like many anti-heroes before him, one of his greatest flaws is his inability to recognize how deeply those around him care for him. It is obvious throughout the novel that Jaron is not able to do things all on his own. Because of his stubborn nature, many characters are forced to assist him in tricky and clever ways.

“The Runaway King” is the type of novel that will excite reluctant readers to pick up a flashlight and read under the covers late into the night. Jaron’s voice will captivate, and his close calls are thrilling. Though Jaron can seem morally ambiguous at times, his potential as a great leader shines through the pages. His confidence and willingness to dive headfirst into the unknown are the qualities that were absent from the previous monarch, the effects of which become apparent very early in the novel.

Make no mistake about it, whether you love or hate Jaron, “The Runaway King” will leave you with plenty of questions, and a need for the final book. There is plenty of fighting, including with swords, and stealing throughout "The Runaway King," but none of it is graphically described.

This novel would be ideal for early young adult readers or late middle grade readers.

If you go ...

What: Jennifer Nielsen book signing

When: Saturday, March 2, 6 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City


Emily Ellsworth is a blogger at Emily's Reading Room, at and is a blog dedicated to promoting a love of young adult fiction.