The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy #1)

by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Conditional Recommendation: Orphan boy uses his cunning and wit to stay alive amidst the treacherous plot of a nobleman in this suspenseful adventure.

Age: Young Adult
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy, Book One
Pages: 352
Published: 2012
Genre: Adventure

Awards: E.B. White Read-Aloud Award Honor Book (2013), Lamplighter Award winner (2014)

I was immediately hooked by this book. Immediately! The main character is fascinating and intelligent, the plot is genius and brilliantly executed, and the adventure was a blast to read. This book is one of my favorites!


In the country of Carthya, civil war seems imminent but Conner, a nobleman, is determined to make sure that doesn’t happen even if it means committing treachery against the crown. Sage is taken from his orphanage along with other boys from around the country to be trained and compete against each other in Conner’s plan. If chosen they will impersonate the long-lost prince of Carthya for the rest of their life. With no way out, Sage must use all his cunning and wit to play the nobleman’s game. To win means treachery, to lose means death, but Sage knows that Conner has secrets and uncovers a dangerous truth that changes everything.

Memorable Characters

I really like stories that are told from the point of view of an intelligent character or at least a character that is curious and asks questions. Sage is that intelligent character and his point of view is perfect for a story full of intrigue, deceit and adventure. Sage is cunning and cynical, questioning and at all times ready to take action. At first it appears that he is no role model because he can be rude, an instigator and have a smart mouth. But you’ll discover that underneath it all he is good: he has a moral compass, can see and understand the truth of a matter, is perceptive, defends the weak and innocent, seeks justice, and always endeavors to do what is best for others. For example, after being taken from his orphanage and into Conner’s castle, Sage immediately notices a servant girl named Imogen. At first, it’s because she is quiet and meek and then it’s because of her bruises and injuries. He becomes her defender without thinking. Imogen comes to trust Sage and they develop a friendship founded on caring for the well-being of the other person. There is no romance in this book, just a good friendship between two kids trying to survive in their circumstances.

Well-Conceived Plot

The plot in this book sucks you in and keeps you turning pages wanting to know what happens next, what Sage will do in this situation, or how he will make it out of this new predicament. I am wholly pleased with the writing of this book because Nielsen did an excellent job of balancing what information to reveal and which information to conceal, from Sage and from the reader. There are a few plot twists in this book that are really good but one took me completely by surprise and had me gasping aloud. It’s so good! And that’s all I will tell you!

The adventure of this story is what makes the enjoyment complete. Sage and the other boys go through prince training which includes horseback riding, sword fighting, manners, history, reading, and dancing. Through it all Sage is questioning, defying, and competing sometimes against the other boys, against the instructors or against Conner himself. With kingdoms in the balance as well as individual lives this adventure has an enjoyable scope.

Recommendation Note

I make this a conditional recommendation because there are some scenes of brutal violence by arrow or sword but both are handled with the right amount of humanity and perspective on part of the main character. I think any reader who likes adventure, mystery, competition, suspense and stories set in kingdoms would enjoy this book. As always, happy reading!

Next books in the series I also recommend:

The Shadow Throne (#3)

Where to Find this Book: Amazon* or your local library!
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