Review: The Ascendance Series Books 1-3 by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Jennifer A. Nielsen’s books just have that perfectly wholesome blend of politics, friendship, romance, and brilliance. This three-in-one volume of the Ascendance Series was no exception. I had an incredible time in Carthya with Sage as he navigates affairs of state, first love, and betrayals all while war brews in the background.

Title & Author: The False Prince, The Runaway Throne, & The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Publication: April 2012, March 2013, & February 2014 at Scholastic

Format: E-book

First Impressions: You had me at treachery and deceit.

When Sage, an orphan with nothing but the clothes on his back, is enlisted by nobleman Bevin Conner as a possible candidate for a puppet king in a country on the brink of civil war, he is thrust into a world of politics, betrayal, and court intrigue. But becoming someone else’s pawn holds no appeal for Sage. He has plans and secrets of his own, and he’s determined to come out on top.

“I loved everyone who’s been taken from me. So don’t tell me when I’m allowed to break.”

Abby the Bookworm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an overall series review. Spoilers will be marked.

I love this series. One of my favorite fantasy sub-genres is political fantasy, and the Ascendance Series met all the criteria for a quick but intense read.

If you’re looking for heavy Game of Thrones-level politics, the Ascendance Series might not be for you. Knowing that Sage is a genius and will undoubtedly have a plan to get himself out of whatever mess he has gotten himself into this time significantly lowers the suspense, but at the same time, his unpredictability is a whole other source of distress.

Although this series is classified as young adult, the writing often felt more like middle grade. This was refreshing as well, in its own way. Sage is not the typical YA male protagonist who thinks 24/7 about girls and/or his dysfunctional family. Thank goodness for that.

I have to admit, my love for the first book didn’t really reach its full potential because I felt like strangling Sage half the time. His defiance and his recklessness got him into situations that often ended up hurting nobody but him. But boy, oh boy, did I regret thinking that later on. By the end of the second book, I had fallen for this boy who everyone called foolish but I found positively brilliant.

His vulnerability, longing to belong, self-doubt, reluctance to get attached — they all give his character such depth. In the third book, when he experiences firsthand what it means to truly love someone/something and learns what the emotion makes possible, I was so, so proud of him.

I loved all the supporting characters as well, along with the found family vibe and all the friendships Sage makes by the end of the third book.

Again, Sage is an utter genius. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. I’m so glad Jennifer Nielsen is continuing the series with The Captive Kingdom (coming out in October of this year). I can’t wait to see what Sage gets up to next.

“Maybe our odds could be better — I admit that — but I believe we’re positioned very well for success.”

“Chained up in the dungeons of our enemy, on the verge of total defeat, and set for execution?”

I shrugged. “I already said that things could be better. But they could be worse too. Cheer up, Roden!”


The way that Nielsen just manages to completely fool the reader (she fooled me, at least) way up until the plot twist is revealed, and the way that it makes all so much sense when you go back and reread — amazing.

I found it adorable that Roden, Tobias, and Jaron actually become best friends in the second and third books. Imogen and Jaron had me extremely frustrated in The Runaway King, and I thought that she actually died in the third book, but the happy ending was so satisfying that I can’t even find the energy to yell at the two of them.

I was crying when Mott got injured. I’m so glad he was spared from the Sage’s Loved Ones Massacre. I don’t know what I’d have done if he died.

Abby the Christian Bookworm: FAITHFULNESS

For the Ascendance Series, I’d like to highlight a characteristic that almost all of the main characters exhibited: faithfulness. From Sage’s persistent determination to do what’s best for Carthya, to Mott’s loyalty, to Conner’s somewhat morally gray dedication to his country, the main characters remain faithful to what they believe is right all throughout the series, even when it requires sacrifice and impossible choices.

Keep reading,


How about you? Have you read any of Jennifer Nielsen’s books? Are they on your TBR?

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