Review posted January 11, 2013.
Scholastic Press, New York, 2012. 342 pages.
2012 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children's Fiction: Fantasy and Science Fiction
2013 Cybils Award Winner, Fantasy and Science Fiction
So, funny thing. I read this book earlier in the year, as an Advance Reader Copy, and although I enjoyed it, I decided there were too many flaws, and I didn't want to review it. I read it afresh at the end of 2012, as part of my reading for the Cybils, and this time I loved it.
What was the difference? I believe that both times I read it in one sitting, into the small hours of the morning, so I certainly found it a page turner both times.
I think the first time, it reminded me so much of The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, I couldn't help but be disappointed. That's an unfair comparison for almost any book, so when I figured out the big reveal fairly easily, I held it against the author and thought she should have done the revealing differently. The second time I read it, I knew what I knew (and some other reviewers thought she intended us to figure it out), so I didn't worry about that. I firmly did not compare it to The Thief, and this time I loved it.
The book opens with an orphan named Sage stealing a roast for the orphanage and then being captured and bought by a nobleman. Conner, the nobleman, gets three other orphan boys and tells them one of them is going to replace the prince who's been missing for four years. The rest of the royal family is dead, and the country will find out in two weeks' time. If one of the boys can get everything right in two weeks, he will be the new king and live in luxury the rest of his life. Of course, it's pretty clear that whichever boys are not chosen will need to be killed to keep the secret.
Sage isn't one to capitulate to Conner's power, and he clearly has plans of his own. How it all gets worked out is wonderful tale. If the big twists and turns don't take you by surprise, there are still some little details that will slip through. The book is hard to put down, and the action keeps going. I do have to say that, like Megan Whalen Turner's books, you do spot more details when you reread the book that you won't have realized were significant the first time around.
The best thing about this book? It's "Book One of the Ascendance Trilogy." The book does stand alone beautifully, and tells a complete story. But I'm definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next.