The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
It is a strange, unique day when only an orphan boy of no particular breeding can save a kingdom from war. But that is the plan hatched by Conner, a nobleman, when the entire royal family is poisoned. The only possible way to save the kingdom from immediate war is to find a young man who resembles the prince, who was thought to be dead years before. So it is that Sage and three other young orphans are gathered up. It is made clear from the beginning that this is no joke, and that Conner will do anything to keep this secret safe. The boys begin learning to be princes, competing for the one spot as the prince. They must learn to read, write, ride a horse, fight with swords, and use genteel manners. Among them, Sage is the one with the arrogance, fearlessness and pride to be a prince, but if he doesn’t try at his lessons, he may not be the one chosen. All of the boys realize what it means not to be chosen – certain death.
Nielsen has created a book that dashes forward, blazing with a strong concept from the beginning. The idea of the false prince and a life-or-death competition for a single role makes for exhilarating reading. Her pacing is brilliant, as is the ease of her writing, making the book almost impossible to put down. In Sage, she has created a boy who could have been dislikable but instead reads as brave, valiant, and true.
Nielsen does not shy away from violence or death. This is a world of lies, cunning and manipulation. Within that world, people will do what they have to in order to get ahead. That is a large part of the appeal of Sage. He is somehow immersed in that world of desperation, but remains unwilling to ever be desperate or eager. He is a complex character filled with charisma.
Written in the first person, a rather daring choice for this sort of book, Nielsen manages to not allow the reader to guess the truth of the story until she reveals it. While readers may guess at how the book will end, they will not be certain until that moment of revelation. It’s another feature that makes the book so very readable.
The first in a trilogy, I was thrilled to find a book that stands on its own. While there are plot points that I look forward to finding out more about, this book has a very satisfying ending. Get this into the hands of readers who want action, intrigue and enjoy a little sinister darkness in their books. Appropriate for ages 12-14.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.