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Literature / Ascendance Trilogy

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The Ascendance Trilogy is a trio of young adult fantasy novels written by Jennifer A. Nielsen from 2012-2014.

The series follows an orphan named Sage, who is adopted, along with three other boys, by nobleman Bevin Conner. However, this is all part of Conner's scheme to find an impersonator for the king's long-lost son, intending to plant him as a puppet prince. Sage knows that Conner's motives are suspect, but with his life on the line, he must compete with the other adopted boys for the role of the false prince.


The books in the series are as followed.

  • The False Prince
  • The Runaway King
  • The Shadow Throne

There is also a forthcoming Film of the Book of the first novel, to be produced by Paramount Pictures. Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman is set to write the screenplay.

This series provides examples of:

  • Batman Gambit: Jaron's plans in The Runaway King and The Shadow Throne verge into Gambit Roulette, but he does manage to specifically manipulate Rodin and Conner, by correctly assessing their character, despite outward appearances.
  • Berserk Button: Harming Imogen quickly becomes a major one for Sage. However, Sage will do anything to save her, a fact that the King of Avernia is all too happy to use to his advantage.
  • Cassandra Truth: Sage repeatedly tells Mott and Connor that he is the prince. They interpret him as expressing willingness/desire to be the one chosen to impersonate the prince. Frequently employed in various situations throughout all three books, often coupled with Sarcastic Confession.
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  • Cutlery Escape Aid: In the first book, The False Prince, Sage is constantly stealing silverware, although it's not always clear whether it's to help him escape from Farthenwood, to sell once he does, or just because he can. He and Tobias both steal knives from the kitchen, which comes back in the sequel The Runaway King, when Imogen steals dozens of knives from the kitchens over the course of a week or two, and buries them for Sage to find.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sage.
    Roden: What are you doing here? When I asked for more soldiers, I didn't intend for you to come.
    Sage: Yes, but I was bored.
  • Elective Mute:In the first book, Imogen pretends to be mute to discourage Conner or others from taking an inappropriate interest in her. She reveals her secret to Sage, and the two of them talk frequently when they are alone. She drops the act near the end of the book, and talks normally in the next two.
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  • Emergency Impersonation: The main plot of the first book, in which Sage is taken from an orphanage and is trained, along with two other candidates, to impersonate a missing prince (by a nobleman with dubious motives) and take the throne, which will otherwise be a source of civil war, after the king dies.
  • Gambit Pileup: The last sixth or so of The Shadow Throne turns into this, with Conner and the King of Avenia following different plans which both collide with Jaron's Gambit Roulette.
  • Gambit Roulette: Jaron's plan only succeeds because the enemy armies attack exactly where he needs them to when he needs them to, because he's taken prisoner to a previously-prepared location, and because a character betrays his enemy at a critical moment. He does use some Batman Gambits and Paranoia Gambits to try to bring about these outcomes, but the entire plan hangs on so many of these that it's implausible.
  • Guile Hero: Sage
  • Genuine Imposter: Conner trains three boys to impersonate long-lost Prince Jaron. Sage is revealed to have been the actual Prince Jaron the entire time.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Imogen seemingly sacrifices herself for Sage in The Shadow Throne by taking an arrow meant for him. It doesn't stick. Bevin Conner also does this, towards the end of the same book, with more success on the "Sacrifice" portion of the trope.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: It turns out that Sage IS the missing prince, who went into hiding after he was presumably killed by pirates four years prior. Played with, both in that Sage was fully aware of his heritage and that he himself was the one who hid himself away.
  • I Gave My Word: Even though Sage has a flexible relationship with the truth, he does take his word very seriously and will carry out promises he makes, even when there is no benefit or obligation on his part.
  • Ill Boy: Latamer is frail and heavily implied to suffer from chronic illness, which is why Conner offs him to make the other boys realize the seriousness of their situation.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Early in the first book, Connor questions each boy about his strategy in a losing duel. Sage gives this as his answer. Comes back at the end when he carries it out against Roden.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Sage tries to build a rapport with his personal attendant by encouraging him to call him Sage instead of sir and insisting on dressing himself, but only succeeds in making him uncomfortable. Sage later tries this with a maid by the name of Imogen, with considerably more success.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Imogen takes an arrow through the chest that was intended for Sage/Jaron. She turns up roughly 5 chapters before the end of the book, having recovered in full. Even she seemed confused at her survival.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: In and out of story, this is Latamer's role. Conner knew his health problems would keep him from being a viable candidate, so he makes an example out of him in order to keep the other boys in line.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Sage/Jaron is the king pun intended of this trope. Although he will out and out lie if needed, he prefers to present the truth in a slanted, sarcastic, or unbelievable way.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The narrator rarely actually lies, either to the readers or the other characters he interacts with, and on the occasions he does tell an outright lie he often points it out in the narration. Instead, his unreliability comes from his tendency to tell only part of the truth so that it is easily misinterpreted or to tell the truth in a manner that makes other characters believe he is lying or being sarcastic. In the later two books he is more forward about things, but still will often let the reader believe what the general public believes about a situation until it comes time to reveal the more complete version of the truth.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Sage kicks Fink in the head hard enough to leave a dark bruise. He later remarks that a better person might've regretted kicking a kid, but he didn't.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: In The False Prince, Sage/Jaron starts out holding the trump cards, but he has to constantly readjust his plans to the other characters' actions. In The Runaway King, his plans are somewhere between this and Gambit Roulette, as he is noted to have to adjust to things he didn't foresee, but he is also implied to have planned things that ultimately came down to mere luck.
  • You Didn't Ask: Sage tries to use this to defend himself when Amarinda confronts him about not telling her that he was Jaron. She is NOT mollified.

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