In Review: The Shadow Throne

An enjoyable read that will have young readers wondering what the unpredictable king will do next.

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Published by Scholastic, February of 2015. Paperback of 317 pages at $7.99. Originally released as a hardcover in 2014. Intended for readers 10 – 14, Grades 5 – 9.

The cover: A red background suggesting a velvety material has the author’s name at the top, with a large title that’s almost half of the cover, with the tagline “Fight for the Future…Die for the Throne.” Below is an ornate gold key that’s been shattered. This illustration was done by Ken Choi and designed by Christopher Stengel. It’s intriguing; I want to know how this key fits into the story. Overall grade: B+

The premise: From the back cover, “One war. Too many deadly battles. Can a king save his kingdom, when his own survival seems unlikely? War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does. His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighboring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya’s throne?” I haven’t read the two books in the previous this trilogy, but just by reading this summary I know who’s the lead, what’s going on, and what the stakes are. I’m ready for this. Overall grade: A-

The characters: The lead of the book is King Jaron, the youthful leader of the kingdom of Carthya. He initially appeared to be unsuited for leadership, but as the book progresses it becomes very clear that he cares for all people, regardless of their loyalties, but if he, or his kingdom, is attacked, he will defend it. He’s not the typical King in that he has no far reaching plan and is more than willing to run into battle, rather than watch from the sidelines. In a previous book he was made King of the Pirates, and still is the ruler, albeit through a surrogate ruler at the time of this novel. The next important character is Roden, the captain of the guard. He leaves the book briefly, but his return shows him to be a changed man, and it is he that has the greatest character growth of the novel. Jaron is supposed to wed Amarinda, who is good to him as he is to her, but his heart is with Imogen. She is briefly seen at the worst possible time, and has something very surprising occur to her. The big villain of the book is King Vargan, who is an older King but is no fool. He has caused this war to take control of Carthya because of its resources. Every time he appears the tension increases, and when he exchanges words with Jaron it’s top stuff. The number two baddie is Kippenger. He’s your typical strong blonde henchman who’s always outsmarted by the hero. There are several other characters in the novel, but the ones mentioned have the biggest roles to play. With the exception of Roden, all end the book with little to no character growth, unless they’re killed. Overall grade: B

The setting: Any medieval setting one could think of is here: castles, villages, forests, fields, valleys, bogs, and mountains. All are described well, but there is nothing that hasn’t been encountered elsewhere. Overall grade: C

The action: This is where the book excels. Jaron is not one to shy away from a battle. If his people are fighting, he wants to be there to assist them. Such a personality trait has him always in the thick of things, or running from the thick of things. There are several noteworthy clashes, but the best occurred at the beginning of Chapter Ten. This was not physical conflict, but psychological, which I found riveting. There is also a major scene involving Jaron and a group of older fighters that is tremendous, as is the showdown that begins in Chapter Thirty-Six. Nielsen is outstanding at setting up conflict and having it resolved in unconventional and entertaining ways. Overall grade: A

The climax: There’s a tidy conclusion to this trilogy, though more adventures of Jaron could be written one day. The final chapter is more of an epilogue than necessary story component, and its inclusion isn’t necessary to the finale of this saga. Overall grade: A-

The final line: An enjoyable read that will have young readers wondering what the unpredictable king will do next. Overall grade: B

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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