The Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.
The False Prince is the first book in the trilogy and I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d think of when I started. It was the right genre, but it was more literary than contemporary in feel. However, once I got past the first chapter Jennifer A. Nielsen held my attention. The story reminded me of Disney’s Aladdin and Prince and the Pauper. Trickery and wit allows the hero to survive the danger and save the day.
I must admit I suspected Sage’s true identity fairly early on, though I’m not sure if it was because the clues were obvious. It could have simply been that I am older than the audience was intended for. But I still had a “What the…” reaction when I got to the reveal of that particular plot point and it wasn’t the good kind. I felt cheated and had hoped the story would go in a different direction. There were also times when Sage’s arrogance annoyed me, but considering his age and his history, his arrogance was realistic.
What didn’t seem realistic to me was how wily Sage was. He did things, anticipated things in a way that seemed almost prophetic. He thought pretty far into the future or made very good, very quick decisions on how to act, which is the case is not explained in any of the three books. But he’s at least consistent in those decisions.
Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The sequel to the series, Runaway King, is decent. The story’s beginning caught my eye much faster than it’s older brother, but I also remember the particular story less than the other two. This one relies heavily on the whole “Prince in disguise” motif with some pirates thrown in.
His arrogance still exists in this book. And he often sees those older than him as stupid and unwilling to see the truth. Again with his almost prophetic vision, he starts making plans for events that don’t even happen until book three. This book is truly a set-up for the third and final book, and while interesting, does suffer from that “middle book” syndrome trilogies often have in a second book.
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 neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a 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?
The finale kept my attention. However, there were parts where I felt the storyline went on far too long. Their was a lot of mourning without purpose and a lot of tracking down/chase scenes. The tension was tight though so I was never really bored with the book. His arrogance has dwindled down and he takes advice and help easier in this book. But this book had the most problems of the three I think. The motives for a few people weren’t clear until the end, and when the reason Mendenwal joined the war came out I wanted to yell, “That’s it?” King Humphrey went to war because of a lie Jaron’s father told and the fact Jaron challenged him to a sword fight when he was 10 for insulting his mother? The fact that “I promised him half of Carthya as his spoils of victory.” Felt thrown in as well. Another issue I have: we never learn what happens to Mavis. He was a minor character, but I still wonder did he survive the war? Did Mavis and Jaron ever see each other again?
The three books are worth a read though none of them can be called flawless. And my favorite was the first, which really could have been a stand-alone. The series is male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean women don’t have a role. Imogen, and the princess both fight to protect the kingdom in different ways. Neither of them are trained to fight so a lot of it is with kitchen knives or risking their lives to ensure a plan works. They both save Jaron at different times, in different ways. Their are also women in the story who prove ferocious, determined to protect their homes.
Have you read the Ascendance Trilogy? What did you think?