Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen


June 22, 2012 by Heidi

book cover of The False Prince by Jennifer A. NielsenTitle: 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!

Map of Carthya and Neighboring Lands from The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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.


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  1. Nope, I still don’t like this book. But I do really like this review. I’m glad that this one grew on you Heidi. And I look forward to your reviews of the sequels so I can find out what happens without having to read any more. 😉

    • Heidi says:

      Lol, glad I can be of service. I knew that this one didn’t really click with you, and I think I’ll avoid the audio versions myself just in case that had something to do with it. I like that I’m still thinking about this one and it’s been two months since I read it. Sometimes my initial reaction to a book is ‘LOVE’ but then I move on and don’t think about it again, whereas with this one it was ‘like’ but it stuck with me.

  2. Candice says:

    I had this one checked out a couple months ago, started it, but just didn’t get too into it… I think I had other books that I was wanting to read and then it was due, so I returned it unfinished. I keep thinking I want to check it out again and give it another go. I have heard great things about it, but I sometimes have a difficult time with fantasy. Hopefully I’ll give this one another try soon!

    • Heidi says:

      Interested to hear what you think if you do give it another shot! This one isn’t REALLY fantasy, it is set in another world, but thus far the series is devoid of magic or anything of that sort, so it might be easier for non-fantasy readers to get into. I have read a few reviews from those who never were able to get into it though, so I’d hardly blame you if you couldn’t!

  3. Hah, my favorite book in the entire universe (The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov) gradually got under my skin! So I totally get what you mean. And it’s true that comparing any character to Eugenides isn’t exactly fair. MWT is a mastermind, and there are times when even Gen can’t live up to his own standards.
    You totally had me at ‘incredibly intelligent’. That’s pretty much all I need to know.

    • Heidi says:

      The Master and Margarita is one of those ‘I must read this at some point in my life’ but then I never actually do books for me!

      I’ve thought about it some more since writing my review, and I’ve determined I think Sage compares better to Sophos than to Eugenides. I agree, Gen’s legend is bigger than the man himself. 😛

  4. Gosh I love your reviews, Heidi! You consistently review books I have noted but been kind of ‘meh’ about and instead made me want to rush out and buy them immediately.

    Fave Heidi-ism in this review:

    “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.”

    Ha! Love that:)

    Now I haven’t read The Thief or any of MWT’s books yet (ducks and hides) even though I LOVE fantasy and I know it’s like mandatory reading material for all lovers of that genre. But maybe that’s a good thing since you recommend not trying to compare this one with that series.

    And thank you for the note to moms on the appropriate reader age! I totally get what you are saying about the reader needing to be more mature in terms of a book asking big questions of a young reader. As the mom of a 9 year old reader, it’s nice to have that knowledge in hand:)

    • Heidi says:

      Thank you SO much, Heather! You totally flatter me. =D

      I really think that anyone who loves fantasy and HASN’T read MWT’s books is likely to like this one significantly more because they won’t have that comparison niggling them the whole time. This one isn’t all out fantasy either, so much as set in an alternate world in the past, but thus far it’s been completely devoid of magic or magical creatures.

      Also you’re welcome on the age thing! I don’t always include it, but this book is marketed as Middle Grade, which I often will start recommending to readers around 9. I felt like this one was definitely for slightly older Middle Grade readers than say something like The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (which I highly recommend for 9 year olds :P).

  5. […] The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers Magic Dreams by Ilona Andrews Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel Let’s Talk About Sync, Baby BEA Wrap-Up With Bated Breath: BEA Edition Series Review: Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins Little House on the Prairie: Year of the Classic Guest Post […]

  6. Amanda says:

    Oh man. The Queen’s Thief series is literally one of my favorite series of all time. I’d love to read something similar to it, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t be trying to make comparisons the whole time. I also may have a slight aversion to middle grade. I feel like it’s so young. But I’ve overcome book prejudices in the past, so I may try to with this one. Your review sounds really positive – I think I’ll just have to read it when I’m in the right mood.

    • Heidi says:

      This one is being marketed as Middle Grade, but it doesn’t read like Middle Grade. It’s very intelligent, and not cutesy like many books for that age range tend to be. But YES, beware with comparisons. It’s kind of impossible not to, but I really enjoyed The False Prince, and am sure that the rest of the series will deviate more.

  7. Chachic says:

    Okay, so we’ve already talked about this on Twitter and like I said, every review that I’ve seen for this book compares it to The Thief. That makes me more curious about it although I’m planning to manage my expectations because I agree, no one can beat MWT. 😛 I’ll probably wait for The False Prince to be released in paperback though before I read it.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, that’s understandable, I’m so curious about what you think when you do read it. I want to know if someone agrees with me that Sage is more like Sophos than like Eugenides. I think that Sophos and Sage are more accessible in the whole thoughts and feelings category, whereas Gen remains pretty mysterious.

  8. Brandy says:

    “Frankly, nobody is Eugenides but Eugenides, and such comparisons will always fail.”

    YES! I keep telling people Sage is not Gen, don’t expect him to be. I do think comparisons between the two are inevitable given the way the beginning is set up, but I just kept reminding myself it was a different story and ended up loving the experience of reading it. There are a couple things that bother me more in hindsight, but it is still one of the best reading experiences I’ve had this year.

    • Heidi says:

      Agreed, the comparisons can’t be helped, but once I realized it was really and truly it’s own story, I started to very much enjoy it! As is, it’s one of my top reads this year as well, can’t wait for the rest of the series!

  9. I like the warning about not going in expecting another book. I do that sometimes with the books I read and ultimately wind up disappointed, so good on you for bring that up.

    I am dyingggggg to read The False Prince and I even have a copy but have been holding off for some odd reason.

    Anyways, I actually sat and watched the trailer, it was good.

    OH AND THE MAP?! That is always appreciated. You know the story is going to be legit when a map has been included.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I’m kind of a total sucker for maps, and always want to show them off! I hope you DO get to this one soon April, you will legit love it, I’m pretty sure.

  10. […] with similar themes that are much stronger.  Go read Grave Mercy, Graceling, The Thief, or The False Prince instead.  Or if you do want to try Throne of Glass, I recommend borrowing it from the library […]

  11. […] reflects my general mood in March.  I’m most excited for The Runaway King, since I enjoyed The False Prince thoroughly, and I expect I’ll quite like Picture Me Gone as I’ve been meaning to […]

  12. […] excited for.  Sadly, I’ve already read a number of the titles (Grave Mercy, The Raven Boys, The False Prince) but I’ll certainly be grabbing them for potential re-reads as they’re all that […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.