Themes Explored: loyalty, family, royalty, sarcasm, honor, politics, hatred, murder, ingenuity, romance, pirate code, burden of authority, finding oneself, torture
Synopsis: The Ascendance Trilogy is a trio of juvenile fantasy books. Carthya is a land in trouble, the royal family is dead and war is on the horizon. An enterprising noble decides to fill the power vacuum and gain the power of the throne for himself. However, events do not turn out as expected and a missing boy emerges to reclaim his familial birthright.
Review: The Ascendance Trilogy is about an orphan who is not what he seems and his adventures after his hidden identity comes to light. This trilogy moves quickly and has a lot of non-stop action sequences. Jaron, the main character, is a mischievous narrator who jumps off the page. Of course he is incredibly tight lipped and does not reveal pertinent information until later in the story. Which of course means I devoured each book as quickly as possible. I found the main protagonists to be compelling, but the overall dramatization and world building is quite thin.
The first book, The False Prince, begins with several orphans being rounded up by a shady noble. Conner, said noble, is trying to find an orphan boy who resembles the long missing second Prince of Carthya. He plans on installing a puppet prince and ruling from the shadows. In order to prove their worthiness, the three boys are put through a rough two weeks of prince training. While I enjoyed the book, I had a couple problems. First, the two weeks feel more like two days, there is very little drama. It is all Sage/Jaron sarcastically mouthing off and proving his cleverness. Second, the relationship between the three orphans goes from “enemy” to “wary friends” way too quickly. If Nielson had devoted about fifty more pages to this relationship, then the developments in the next books would have made more sense. Third, we are told that Conner is conniving and villainous, but he is never really depicted doing anything overly antagonistic. There is one scene at the very beginning where Conner flexes his villainous muscles, afterwards he just monologues. This is a good action-packed read filled with for adventure and a lot of twists.
The Runaway King begins about a month after Jaron ascends the throne. By now he is bored and feeling out of place amongst the double talking nobles. Even his captain of the guard doubts Jaron’s ruling abilities and has no qualms telling him. Instead of attending his family’s funeral, he decides to take a stroll and is early to his own assassination. Of course fast-thinking Jaron is not killed as planned. He decides to readopt his orphan persona and wage war on the Avenian pirates who ordered his death. In this book, Jaron becomes a lot more fleshed out and is given a healthy dose of maturity. If anything, he is sharper than before and is determined to conquer the pirates. Once again I enjoyed this book but had a couple problems. First, Jaron has a propensity for putting himself in extreme and life-threatening danger. Sometimes he is almost unbelievably reckless. Second, Jaron’s romantic interest in Imogen is incredibly one dimensional and very sketchy. Their relationship is the textbook definition of “love at first sight”. Imogen really gets the short end of the characterization stick, she has no discernable personality. She shows up and admonishes Jaron for a couple paragraphs and then disappears. All her scenes together would not create an entire chapter. Third, Roden’s hatred of Jaron turns into loyalty awfully quickly. One minute Roden is trying to kill Jaron, the next they are best friends.
Finally, The Shadow Throne, ties together all the loose ends left dangling in other books. Imogen has been kidnapped and she is being used as bait to lure Jaron into a fight. Of course Jaron does not go down without a fight. As with the other two books, he ends up in an impossible situation and manages to wriggle his way out. Between the three books, this one has the best writing. Jaron and his two orphan friends are given some real character development. Also, there are some spectacular fight scenarios that are well written. I was happy with the way Nielson ended the trilogy. But I had some problems with The Shadow Throne. First, Jaron is always one step ahead of everyone else. But I am never sure how he carries this off since he spends most of the book chained to a wall. Second, Imogen is give no development whatsoever. She is kidnapped and has no complaints or insights about this event. Also, she just bats her eyes and Jaron is falling at her feet. But Nielson has given her no personality. Third, Nielson left the political situation hanging and offers no conclusion. Nielson hinted at political problems tearing Carthya apart but never really explores this thread. I think the trilogy would have been stronger if this subplot had been developed.
Overall, The Ascendance Trilogy is a well-paced set of books with a likable protagonist. Each book builds upon the action set up in the one before. However, the trilogy is hindered by a lack of world-development. All the reader knows is that Carthya is landlocked and Avenia has a beach. Nothing else about the two countries is ever revealed. I think this is the weakest part about the books. Characterization can only move a narrative so far, there needs to be some world building thrown in somewhere. Plus I would have liked some more time with the pirates, they were the best antagonists. I liked the trilogy and enjoyed the storytelling very much. I just would have liked for it to be a little more developed.