Sigh. It is always hard to write a review like this one. I really enjoyed my experience reading The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (my thoughts). I didn't like The Runaway King as much, but was eager to see how Nielsen would finish. Alas, The Shadow Throne left me feeling disappointed.
War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.
His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?
Jaron played the odds brilliantly in The False Prince. Much of his success was due to luck, but he made the most of the opportunities that came his way and manipulated them in the fashion he needed. In The Runaway King I was frustrated by how he seemed to be less savvy and capable, as if his ultimate success had to be delayed until a predetermined page number for plot reasons. This caused his character to stagnate, and he still hasn't recovered. What was a problem in the second book, becomes an even bigger issue in this third volume. I didn't feel like I was reading about people I cared about at all. The characters lost all their life and are merely plastic pieces on a board the author is playing with. Luck and coincidence continue to play major roles in Jaron's success. He makes some brilliant plans, but they don't come together because of his brilliance. Nielsen is not the first author to use this. It occurs a lot in this type of fantasy. Rae Carson and Megan Whalen Turner have used it too, and it hasn't bothered me. The difference? They made me believe in and love their characters. That never happened over the course of this trilogy for me. As it continued, I felt less connected to the characters not more. They seemed to become flatter, not more rounded. So this book became an exercise in reading battle after battle, scene after scene, and not caring at all.
The plot here is fast paced and full of action. It will please readers who enjoy sword fights, races on horseback, and danger. The motivations of the villains did not make sense to me, and the resolution was hard to swallow. I can't discuss what is my largest issue with the plot is without divulging spoilers, so I will keep that to myself. It was enough to leave me feeling disappointed with my entire experience reading these books though. This makes me sad because I saw so much potential in that first one. The dialogue felt stilted and forced, which was another issue for me. It's a reflection of the lack of characterization and the path the story took, I think.
Anyone who has gotten this far in the series will probably want to finish it by reading this volume, but may want to lower their expectations. Though my expectations were not that high, remembering the disappointment I felt reading the second.
I read an ARC picked up at ALA Midwinter. The Shadow Throne is available on February 25th.