The Captive Kingdom by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Captive Kingdom Book Cover


Goodreads: The Captive Kingdom
Series: Ascendance #4
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2020


King Jaron’s ship is attacked at sea and he is taken prisoner by the mysterious Captain Strick and her crew. They claim they have evidence that Jaron killed his parents, and stole the throne from his brother. Could Darius still be alive?

Star Divider


When I first started reading The Captive Kingdom, I had my doubts. Jennifer A. Nielsen excelled at depicting Sage’s cleverness in The False Prince, when he only had to outwit three other people, but has struggled to make Jaron’s success believable on a large scale. Too often, Jaron has succeeded only by a combination of sheer luck (on his side) and sheer stupidity (on his enemies’ side). The laughable opening of The Captive Kingdom almost made me stop reading. I persevered, however, and ultimately enjoyed the drama of the story, even if most of it makes no sense.

The Captive Kingdom begins with Jaron’s ship being overtaken by a unknown enemy. Though Jaron is returning from a trade meeting with an allied country, he has chosen to travel by pirate ship instead of by a mode of transportation more fitting for a king. One might think that this is a good thing–the pirates are supposed to ruthless, their propensity for violence and death legendary. They must be good protection, right? Well, any reader of these books knows the pirates are about as fearsome as a dust bunny. The book begins with the pirates all hiding belowdecks when an enemy ship appears. They immediately hand over Jaron, get captured, and meekly start serving as crewmen for their conquerors. I understand that Nielsen wants Jaron to be a prisoner for reasons of plot, but if this is the only way? Well, I almost stopped reading here because the whole scene was so laughable.

Still, I forged on, and though I cannot say that Nielsen’s grasp on politics or logic has vastly improved, I can say that I was entertained. As usual, Jaron makes a lot of crazy decisions that readers hope are actually someone genius and not just stupid. And, half of the time, they work. It’s exciting! Anyone who has enjoyed the previous three books will find pretty much the same fare here.

But Nielsen is, I think, consciously trying to address some of the weaknesses of the previous books. Imogene, for instance, typically gets taken prisoner and is missing from the stories. This time, she plays a more active role. (Amarinda gets taken prisoner and is missing from the story, instead. Oh well.) Other women also become more prominent; Jaron is captured by a female captain and allies himself with a girl from a conquered nation. Previously, Imogene and Amarinda were pretty much the only females in the books. Roden’s relationship with Jaron is also explored more, as he pushes back on Jaron’s devil-may-care ruling style–a style that probably should worry all of Carthya, if only they knew.

The plot is, frankly, a bit too sensational for me to take seriously. Some of the wild plot twists read more like fan fiction than anything else. I think the twists are supposed to be shocking, but they are so bizarre they end up being obvious. And the choices made by characters are choices that tend to conveniently serve the plot; they do not seem like choices that make sense for the characters.

I imagine fans of the Ascendance series will be divided on this one. Some may love going on another adventure with Jaron, while others may feel that the legacy of the past three books is spoiled by the crazy plot twists. I personally was not a fan of the big reveals because they seem like poor writing–just easy ways to create drama. But I was entertained enough that I will probably read book five. It can’t be any worse.

3 Stars

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