A boy king threatened by pirates and thieves on one side and helpless against government officials intent on replacing him with a steward on the other are the circumstances King Jaron faces when he ascends to the throne of Carthya in Jennifer Nielsen’s fantasy adventure The Runaway King from Scholastic Press. It’s a predicament that forces Jaron to figure out which way is up when every direction leads to disaster.
The Runaway King commences where Nielsen’s book The False Prince left off. The two books are part of the Ascendance Trilogy by Nielsen and trace the life and tribulations of Jaron, the young son of King Eckbert who is sent to Mrs. Turbeldy’s Orphanage in Book One to keep him safe from rebellious forces closing in on the royal family. The forces succeed in killing Jaron’s parents and his older brother leading up to his family’s funeral in the opening chapters of Book Two as Jaron takes his place at Carthya’s castle in Drylliad.
Acquainted with Book One does help to understand Jaron’s current situation in Book Two but it’s not necessary as Nielsen feeds the reader small doses of the past, his previous attachments to the characters presently in his life and the circumstances which he finds surrounding him. Nielsen exhibits an intuitive nature as she sheds light on Jaron’s fears, vulnerabilities, suppositions, and need to be happy and to keep his kingdom happy.
Jaron’s journey takes him from the security of the palatial estate in Drylliad to the savage attacks threatening the borders of Carthya, and from the slums of Dichell in the neighboring nation of Avenia to the shanty town of the pirates camp on Tarblade Bay. He conceals his true identity as the King of Carthya during his travels by using the name Sage, a name given to him at the orphanage.
Nielsen weaves a churning adventure for Jaron that is reminiscent of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels as one destination leads to the next. The interpersonal skills which Jaron hones in order to forge friendships along his way are also a significant facet of Nielsen’s book demonstrating her talent to create a character whom readers can relate to and develop a pathos for, and whom they will take with them by the close of the book. Images of Jaron adapting to being a boy ruler is also reflective of Prince Caspian in C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.
There is tragedy countered by benevolent deeds, comedic moments reciprocated by nail-biting intensity, and friendships that are merely illusions while others are genuine. Nielsen incorporates polarizing traits throughout the story as Jaron must determine truth from falsehoods, and use his intelligence to help him stay alive while surrounded by forces conspiring for his demise.
The Runaway King has elements of classic literature for young adults in the ilk of Gulliver’s Travels. Nielsen’s story arouses emotions and enforces the life long lessons that not all friends are what they seem to be and neither are all enemies for that matter. Book Two closes with a good friend of Jaron’s being kidnapped leading readers to speculate on the storyline for Book Three, which is sure to follow Jaron along the path to maturity.