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Friday, July 11, 2014

The Shadow Throne, written by Jennifer Nielsen. Scholastic, 2014. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"But there were other realities of life, often requiring partnerships to be formed for more practical reasons. Marriages to gain a provider or a cook or a companion were common, and for many people, that was enough. Amarinda and I were supposed to marry because of a treaty worked out between our families. Maybe people did marry for reasons other than love, but when I thought about it, a treaty was the most ridiculous reason of them all."

Jaron, King of Carthya, is back with a vengeance in this final tale from the Ascendance trilogy. I tore through this book as quickly as I did the first two. Jennifer Nielsen sure knows how to grab hold of her readers and take them on a roller coaster ride through the Carthyian and Avenian landscapes.

Jaron has just returned from time spent with the pirates when he learns that King Vargan has invaded Carthya, and he has enlisted the help of Gelyn and Mendenwal to make military strikes on all fronts. Vargan has also captured Imogen. Jaron is determined to find her. His rescue attempt falls short. He is taken and made a prisoner. His treatment by his captors leaves much to be desired. After being told that Imogen has been killed and realizing how much he truly loved her, he uses all of his wiles to execute his own escape. He returns to Carthya in hopes of leading his countrymen to victory.

Jaron is full of surprises (as we have come to expect), and the events that ensue are dangerous, and often seemingly ill-conceived. He barrels headlong into battle, accompanied by his closest and most trusted friends. As the war rages, Jaron acknowledges that love and the loyalty of friends mean more to him than the thrill of winning battles and destroying enemies. But, will any of that matter in the end?

Jaron's voice is strong and rich, allowing readers to know him as a spirited and determined young leader, thrust into a role that he did not seek but cannot ignore. The plotting remains strong and is awash with clues that avid fans will notice. The pace moves speedily from one catastrophic event to the next, holding the audience on the edge of their seats until the next difficulty arises. Through it all, he is accompanied by those who have been by his side from the beginning. Doing what is expected of him, and saving his country and countrymen from Avenian rule, proves arduous. Jaron is up to the task.

Jennifer Nielsen does not disappoint in this terrific finish. She manages to pull all the right strings and bring the three stories to a most satisfying conclusion. Jaron learns the lessons he needs to learn to be a respected and responsible ruler. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, those lessons are sure to stand him in good stead as he moves forward to prove himself a worthy ruler.

When you return to school in the fall, start your daily readaloud with The False Prince. Then, stand back and watch intrigued and motivated readers move on to the final two installments in this excellent trilogy. It will be time well spent.

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