The war Jaron feared has finally arrived. And King Vargan of neighboring Avenia has captured Imogen in an effort to use her against Jaron. His friends and allies advise Jaron not to go after Imogen himself and walk into an obvious trap. But Jaron, of course, does not listen–and soon he finds himself a captive, as well.
The Shadow Throne reunites the cast of the previous two books in what was originally meant to be the grand finale to this trilogy. The stakes are higher than ever before as Carthya goes to war with three neighboring nations, Imogen is kidnapped by the Avenian king, and Jaron must use all his wits to save his kingdom and rescue his love–all without getting captured or killed himself. The plot at times strains belief, but that has been true of both the previous installments, as well. Readers who made it this far will likely find this adventure satisfying.
Personally, I still think that book one, The False Prince, is the strongest in this series because Sages’s–and Nielsen’s–gifts tend to shine brighter on a smaller scale. Believing that Sage fooled one pompous nobleman and a handful of servants who never met him is easy. Believing that boyish tricks can save a nation and win a war is a little harder to swallow. Plus, Nielsen’s grasp of politics has always seemed tenuous and a bit naive. The author constantly expects readers to buy into the idea that a nation worshipfully supports a boy who makes bad decisions and only succeeds in his efforts half the time because he is lucky–not because he is smart.
Jaron’s inadequacies as a ruler are on full display here, as he decides that the best way to save his country from war is to walk into the hostile neighboring country of Avenia and get himself captured. Oh, he has his reasons, of course–once again Imogen has been taken prisoner and is being used as bait for Jaron. (How, um, feminist.) But, even though everyone including Jaron knows this is a trap, Jaron walks into it and then seems…kind of surprised that he does not succeed in getting out. The only thing that saves him from entire ruin here is that yet again his enemies are incredibly dense. Instead of just executing him on the spot or trying to leverage his capture for political gain, they keep his capture a secret and then spend apparent weeks trying to get him to reveal his war plans (even though, who knows. Maybe those plans have completely changed in the weeks Jaron disappeared and the regents were told that he is dead). Honestly, with three nations against one–Jaron’s enemeies do not really need to know what Jaron is thinking about war strategies. They probably should have just offered Jaron in exchange for a peace treaty.
To her credit, Nielsen does try to address a few of the political problems rampant in Jaron’s kingdom. For instance, he has a long and illustrious history of appointing his friends to high positions in the kingdom. Finally, someone in this book objects, and readers get to see the army struggling to follow the new captain–Jaron’s untried, untested, possibly completely unqualified teenage friend. It is a small matter in the grand scheme of Jaron’s poor political decisions, but it gives a brief moment of realism to a story that otherwise strains belief to the utmost.
Ultimately, however, the average reader who made it this far is unlikely to be overly concerned with the logic of the plot. The entertainment value of the books comes from watching a smart-mouthed teenage boy trick dense grown-ups, and that continues to happen here. Readers who enjoyed the first two books will find the same formula here, just on a bigger stage.