BY KATIE STOCKDALE
The False Prince rests on a classic story arc. In fact, it reflects the American dream: a poor person rises through life to land at the top. In this case, an orphan is given the chance to become a king. But author Jennifer Nielsen is smart; she knows that to make a book interesting it has to have twists. And she provides exactly that.
The country of Carthya is in trouble. Four years ago, it lost its youngest prince, Prince Jaron, who is presumed dead at the hands of pirates. And now, the entire royal family has been killed, poisoned in their own castle. The country faces civil war as the king’s regents vie for the throne. But one of them, Bevin Connor, has a plan. He combs orphanages, looking for a boy who could be the lost Prince Jaron, with the plan of training him and installing him as king.
Enter Sage, a 15-year-old orphan, handpicked by Connor to compete with three other boys for the crown. The only problem is that Sage is used to lying, begging and stealing his way through life, and he has no intention of stopping.
Sage’s narrative brings humor to an otherwise dark tale. He favors sarcasm and dry wit that leaves the reader rolling their eyes and smiling wryly. But Sage is not, admittedly, a great person. He’s hot headed, and there are several moments where he gets himself in deep trouble when he could have stayed silent. He’s also manipulative and has no problem antagonizing, fighting with, or insulting people.
Yet despite these character flaws, the reader is still able to empathize with Sage. He has some sense of a moral compass, and connects immediately with the servant, Imogen, at Connor’s house. Through his attempts to protect her, the reader gets a feel for who Sage is. He’s just a kid that life has dealt a rough hand and he deals with it any way he can.
Nielsen plays with complex questions. At what point does perceived patriotism become treason? How do you trust someone who’s lying? And how do you tell if they are lying, especially to themselves? Sage and the other boys struggle with these questions as they try to ascertain Connor’s motives. There’s a hope that he’s not corrupt, but then there’s the threat Connor makes himself: whoever doesn’t win dies.
And so we see Sage struggling with his conscience, trying to decide how far he is willing to go to win. Nielsen does a perfect job of portraying just how much Sage has too loose, but how little he trusts Connor, and how little he really wishes to be king. And yet Sage doesn’t leave, even though he could easily escape. This inconsistency lasts throughout the book, adding another layer to Sage’s character.
Nielsen keeps the conflict up throughout the entire book, leaving readers guessing and always wanting more. There isn’t a dull moment as Sage struggles to win, and then to make the choice between living and dying.
Nielsen creates a complex world, and the country of Carthya is just the beginning. From other countries to a Pirate King, Nielsen sets up a story that extends far beyond the first novel. The False Prince starts off the Ascendance Trilogy, with the two remaining books already published.
A fantastic read and a great look into a new world, The False Prince is the perfect way to start a new obsession. Just be sure to have the sequel, The Runaway King close at hand after you finish.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org