King Vargen of Avenia has captured Imogen knowing that Jaron will launch a rescue that Vargen plans to use as a way to take over Carthya. His goal is to kill Jaron and take over his lands. Vargen has talked two other countries into joining him to attack Carthya with promises of riches and more land. When Jaron's rescue goes horribly awry, war breaks out, and the people he loves either die or get hurt; he isn't even sure he wants to live, much less be king.
The plot felt circular at times and perhaps too much like the first book where Connor tortures Jaron. He's tortured again in this plot and Vargen takes him prisoner one too many times. Or maybe the plot was too thin. The battle with the women at the river held my interest but then the following battle didn't. I also didn't buy the whole speech to the men about being the weakest and having a chance to prove their strength in the second battle. It wasn't exactly a pep talk. But then quite a few of the speeches came off as corny or untrue, as well as, the romantic subplot.
The romance was boring. I'm sure many readers will like it, but it slowed the pacing for me. Jaron's story arc over the three books has involved him learning to trust and love others. The romance was a way to continue that arc. I just found it predictable and dragged out too long. The incident with Imogen happened too early and tipped me off so I was able to predict a major plot twist. Same with Fathenwood and the dam. In the author's other books, she'd point me in one direction and I was delighted when what seemed obvious was not. This book leaned more toward the obvious.
One part has Roden struggling with leadership and doubts about himself as captain of Jaron's Guard. He and Jaron have a conversation about earning respect and leading with a vision. Later, Roden has accomplished getting the loyalty of the army, but Jaron just explains how it happened. It was abrupt and I thought short-changed a message that could have had more depth. Because the two never fight side-by-side in later battles, Roden is not seen in action. The first person point of view seemed to work against this character development. However, Roden and Tobias do grow in this novel to become independent, confident people that have a career path to follow.
Jaron is an unreliable narrator and a trickster so maybe I was too onto him, but I guessed most of the major twists. That takes quite a bit of fun out of the novel. The humor is still there but there are more serious moments. While the author is quite good at writing tension and action scenes, the battles didn't have enough strategy and there were too many convenient coincidences. The cannon and gunpowder incident is the most obvious plot contrivance, but also the last escape scene, starvation, and the capture of different characters didn't seem plausible. However, this is tempered by some nice twists with Roden discovering his family and women being resourceful. While it is a fun read, it doesn't stand out like its predecessors.