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March 25, 2014
Read this YA Book If…
The Ascendance Trilogy: Swashbuckling Fun
by Erin Cowles

I recently had another baby, which means I've gained lots of reading time while I feed her. I joke that you can tell how much I enjoy a book by how willing I am to go feed the baby. If I love the book, the slightest little pout, and I'm off to my reading chair; if not, she has to persuade me to interrupt whatever project I'm working on.

My oldest is lucky she didn't starve to death when I read Robinson Crusoe. I'm proud to report that my daughter has been gaining weight like a baby hippopotamus, and Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance trilogy can take some of the credit for that.

Fourteen-year-old orphan Sage has to tread carefully. He's survived on the streets, hopping from orphanage to orphanage, largely because of his sharp wits and smart mouth. When a nobleman named Conner purchases him and places him in a contest with several other orphans for the right to impersonate the medieval kingdom's missing prince and ascend to the throne (as Conner's pawn), Sage finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game.

With only the winner being allowed to live at the end of two weeks, Sage will need every ounce of his street smarts to survive and not lose himself in the process.

The False Prince has everything you could hope for in an adventure story — mystery, swashbuckling, hidden motivations, shifting alliances, witty dialog, and a small pinch of romance thrown in (but don't worry — it isn't enough to put off younger male readers).

Nielsen's writing is spot on. Her pacing is perfect, with the secrets and plot twists rolling out at just the right moments. Her humor is perfectly suited to the story, enough to allow readers to catch their breath, but not enough to distract from the sense of danger and intrigue.

This trilogy's greatest strength is its memorable and enjoyable characters. All the major players in these books are full of surprises, and it is fun to watch how their hidden motivations and true character affect the shape of the contests and the fate of the kingdom.

The False Prince was a New York Times Notable Children's Book and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. It also won the 2012 Whitney Award for Best Middle Grade, as well as the overall Best Youth Novel of the Year.

The Runaway King is up for the 2013 Best Middle Grade Whitney.

The final book in this trilogy, The Shadow Throne, came out in February, so you can plow through this series as quickly as you'd like (which will probably be rather quickly).

Read this book if...

Target Audience: Ages 8-15.

Copyright © 2023 by Erin Cowles Printed from