June 22, 2012 by Heidi
Title: The False Prince [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Jennifer A. Nielsen [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: First in The Ascendance Trilogy
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Published: April 1st, 2012 by Scholastic
Format: Hardcover; 342 pages
Source: Finished copy from Jennifer A. Nielsen herself! Won via Twitter. Thanks so much again.
Challenge: YA/MG Fantasy Challenge
THE FALSE PRINCE is the thrilling first book in a brand-new trilogy filled with danger and deceit and hidden identities that will have readers rushing breathlessly to the end.
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.
As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.
An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.
Often when I finish a book, I have this honeymoon period where I think it’s great before I start to realize maybe it’s not the one for me, and I’m not so taken with it after all. That’s why I don’t post ratings on my blog, I’m constantly changing them after I think about a book for a while and most often for the worse. The False Prince, however, was that rare gem of a book that was kind of a slow burn. I didn’t love it when I read it, in fact, I was annoyed by quite a few things, but then I started to realize that those things that were annoying me really had nothing to do with Jennifer Nielson’s The False Prince at all. Once I let them go, I starting realizing that I, in fact, might love this book, and am incredibly happy that I own it as anything that can keep me this mystified for so long is worth a reread.
So, you might ask, what were ‘the things’? Well, I will tell you. Honestly, I was mad at The False Prince for not being The Thief and at Sage for not being Eugenides. How unfair is that?! Before reading, I had read many reviews that compared the two, and so of course I felt disappointed. Frankly, nobody is Eugenides but Eugenides, and such comparisons will always fail. I should have known this going in, but I couldn’t help but let myself be bitter about the whole thing. Why make the comparison at all? Well, honestly, it’s impossible not to. I have to admit that if anyone were to ask me for a read-a-like suggestion for either one of these series, the first that would come to mind would be the other. And that’s a good thing, not a bad one! Sure, The False Prince wasn’t Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, but if it were, it would have been a hack job. Instead, Jennifer Nielsen has created her own fun, compelling, and well-plotted tale that may be less likely to surprise, but is no less likely to delight.
Plus, The False Prince has something very important that MWT’s books do not: a map!
The False Prince is one of those incredibly intelligent middle grade books that not only refuses to write down to kids, it could unabashedly be consumed and loved by teens (and adults) of all ages. Sage, our hero, is in fact 15, and while I would suggest this read starting around 12, it is an incredibly mature read. I do not mean mature as in drugs, sex, and violence (though there is some violence), I mean mature as in it gives the respect to young readers that they deserve. It will challenge them to think, learn new concepts, and keep them on their toes. In short, it’s the type of book I feel every middle grade should be.
Sage has been chosen, against his will, to play a very deadly game. The winner will become prince (and king) of Carthya, the losers will meet their graves. To be installed as prince means a life of deceit at the hands of Connor as a puppet master, and Sage is far less interested in these things than his competitors. Unfortunately for them, however, he is very interested in keeping his life. I really enjoyed Sage as a character, I found him to be incredibly well developed and written. I’ve always had a thing for characters that are lovable, but scary at the same time. It was clear to me as a reader that Sage was someone worth fearing, and that the only way not to be on the wrong edge of his approval was to be a very decent, or sometimes weak individual. He holds a fierce protectiveness for those he feels need protection, camaraderie for those who would stand by his side, and scorn for anything less. He doesn’t have grand schemes or ambitions of his own, he mostly wants to survive and be left alone, but Connor (and fate) won’t leave him to it. Caught up in a plot that is one part power grab, one part attempt to stave off war, Sage is backed into a corner and forced to decide if he can become the boy selected to rule, rather than the boy he always hoped to be.
The major ‘twist’ of The False Prince didn’t surprise me, not even a little. At the time, this really annoyed me. I felt like instead of breadcrumbs that were easy to miss, Nielsen was leaving whole slices of bread neatly along the pathway that Hansel and Gretel couldn’t miss if the witch had struck them blind. It was only much later that I decided that I don’t think this was supposed to be a complete shock or big unveil. How could a book that’s so intelligent assume its readers are so stupid? It wouldn’t! So once again, I let this complaint go. After all, it’s not where the story is going that needed to be a surprise, it was how it would get there. And that, my friends, was a marvelous journey.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: 100%, no questions asked. I cannot wait for the next book in The Ascendance Trilogy!
Recommended for: I highly recommend The False Prince to any fantasy fans, not just those who enjoy MG/YA. Particularly a wonderful read for fans of MWT, but please don’t go in expecting the same story or characters. Trust me, you’ll be happier for it.