The Ascendance Trilogy is a trio of juvenile fantasy novels by Jennifer A. Nielsen. The first book in the series, The False Prince, was first released on April 1, 2012 through Scholastic Press. The book sold well and its paperback reprint in 2013 placed False Prince on the New York Times Bestseller List in May 2013. The second book, The Runaway King, was released on March 1, 2013, and the last book, The Shadow Throne, was released on February 25, 2014. In the Ascendance Trilogy, an orphan named Sage is revealed to be prince Jaron , the missing Prince of Carthya. After Jaron ascends to the throne, he has to lead his nation through a destructive war.
Sage is a fourteen-year-old orphan who steals a roast from a local butcher, but is saved from his wrath by a nobleman named Bevin Conner. Conner is visiting different orphanages, and buying teenage boys who resemble the missing Prince Jaron, heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Carthya. Conner buys four boys, but one is killed to make sure the boys know that this isn't a game . Conner then takes the boys to his estate, Farthenwood. They learn that Conner is a minor regent of the circle that surrounds the King. King Eckbert, his wife Erin and his oldest son, crown prince Darius, have been murdered. Conner is a patriot who wants to see the kingdom of Carthya preserved, rather than fall into civil war at the hands of Prime Regent Veldergrath. He therefore concocts the plan to place a fraud on the throne to avert the coming war. Jaron has been missing for years, and is believed to be dead after his ship was raided and destroyed by pirates from Avenia, a nation that borders Carthya.
Over the next two weeks, Sage and two other boys compete against each other to become Conner's choice for the impostor. Over the course of two weeks, he was whipped for not bending to Conner's will (by refusing to give him a rock Sage insists is gold), befriends a kitchen maid named Imogen, and was cut by Tobias, the most educated yet the weakest of the three boys. By the end of the two weeks, Sage emerges as the choice, but spares the lives of his two competitors, the other, Roden, who runs away after losing a sword fight for the throne to Sage. Sage reveals that he is indeed Prince Jaron himself, stunning all those around him, including the king's court. It is further revealed that Conner is responsible for the murder of the royal family and led the pirate attack aimed at claiming the life of Sage/Jaron. Conner is arrested and Jaron assumes the rightful throne.
When Jaron is walking in the castle garden, he is attacked and threatened. Apparently, the King of the Avenian pirates wants to kill Jaron, as the pirates did not kill him the first time. After that encounter, Jaron talks to Avenia's king and Imogen, who he insults to make her run away, as he knows that the pirates will come after her and wants her to be safe. Jaron then runs off and heads toward the pirate camp because he thinks that he has to fight the pirates to save Carthya. As he journeys toward the pirate camp, Jaron (again going by Sage) is encountered by a pack of robbers and is adopted into their ranks. Jaron then travels to the pirate camp and is recruited as a pirate with the help of the robbers. Erick, a robber, is also recruited. When he arrives at the pirate camp, Jaron finds out that Imogen is serving as a servant girl to the pirates and Roden is a pirate who is out on a raiding journey. Jaron also discovers that whoever defeats the pirate king in single combat can become the next pirate king. He challenges the current pirate king and wins. Soon after, Roden returns and challenges Jaron. Roden wins, breaking Jaron's leg but not killing him. Jaron is put into a high security cell along with Erick and Fink, a young robber. Jaron escapes and challenges Roden again. Jaron starts to lose because of his broken leg, but then Roden sees Jaron's commitment to Carthya and surrenders. Jaron is by default the Pirate King. Jaron asks Roden to be his Captain of the Guard, makes the pirates agree to help Carthya, and appoints Erick to be the next pirate king. Jaron, Roden, Imogen, and Fink head back to Carthya. In the epilogue, Jaron is informed that Avenia has invaded Carthya and captured Imogen.
Both Avenia and Mendenwal are waging war against Carthya. Roden and Jaron have fought and Roden left with a group of Carthya's soldiers. Imogen has been taken by Avenia as a trap to lure Jaron into their hands. Jaron takes a group of soldiers to save Imogen and barely makes it out alive. The Avenians shoot Imogen, but she is not killed, even though Jaron presumes that she is dead. Jaron and his friends cannot go back for Imogen, so they leave her. However, the fight between Jaron and Roden was staged and they are actually still friends. Jaron wanted the fight to be public, so that his enemies could underestimate him and that Roden and his men could defend Avenia's borders. Jaron heads back to Carthya's capital city, Drylliad, to lead the next battles. Jaron and his troops are trapped in the battle against Avenia and Mendenwal and are forced to retreat to the woods. Jaron gives himself to the Avenians to get a medication to keep some of his troops from dying. The Avenians take Jaron to Farthenwood and there he finds that Imogen and Roden are still alive. He chooses for Roden to be hung with him. Conner helps them escape execution by handing Jaron a knife and dies in the process. Jaron convinces Mendenwal that the war is not justified, and so saves Carthya. In the end, Jaron and Imogen are wed, and so are Tobias and Princess Amarinda of Bymar, previously betrothed to the Carthyan throne.
Critical reception for the first book in the series has been mostly positive. The False Prince was named one of the New York Times' Notable Children's Books of 2012. Praise for the first entry in the trilogy centered upon the book's appeal to a wide age group, as well as for the book's plotting and characters. The reviewer from the New York Times, describing the novel as a "grim story that takes an occasional, though only very occasional, mordant turn", concluded that it "makes the effort of reading worth the getting to the end" but that the "absence of a fully furnished world keeps this particular page turner from lingering very long after the book is closed".
Reception for the second entry was more mixed, with Publishers Weekly commenting that the book's villains were "perhaps too easily manipulated by the young king". Common Sense Media also gave a mixed review, criticizing Jaron's arrogance and saying that "the reasoning behind his reckless schemes is often unclear, so he seems to constantly put himself into needless danger".
In late 2012, Nielsen announced that film rights for the series had been purchased by Paramount Pictures with the intent to create a film series. Bryan Cogman has been hired to adapt the first book in the series into a movie screenplay and Deborah Forte has been announced as the film's producer.