Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince
Book review by Cathy Friend
Ages 8 - 14
"Have you come here to kill me?" I asked. "Because I'll scream when you do and it'll wake up the princess and probably a whole lot of other people and you'll get into trouble."
"You'll be dead."
"Yes, but you'll be in trouble.”
While its neighbouring countries have fought with them in the past, the current king has established treaties, ensuring the continued safety of all his loyal subjects. However, what the people do not yet know is that the king, as well as his wife and eldest son, have recently been murdered.
Three years ago the king's youngest son Jaron died at sea, meaning there is now no heir to the throne of Carthya.
Those who are aware of the royal family's deaths know full well the importance of containing the information for as long as possible; once the surrounding kingdoms discover the news, Carthya will be ravaged by war.
One of the minor regents, Conner, decides to take matters into his own hands and provide the kingdom with an heir to the throne, even if it means committing treason in the process.
His plan is simple. Find four orphan boys - roughly the same age and stature as the fallen prince Jaron - and teach them all they would need to know to take on the persona of the lost prince.
The one best able to impersonate the prince would be presented at the royal court. The others would be killed, so that word could never leak out.
Conner thinks it's all going to plan; he "enlists" (captures) four boys and begins tutoring them in the ways of noblemen; he reveals to them the importance of what he's trying to accomplish, as well as the punishment for those who fail to meet his standards; he readies the evidence he must present at court along with his false prince.
But could street-rat Sage, a smart, snarky boy with his own hidden agenda be his undoing? Could he unravel Conner's patriotic plan and reveal him for the traitor that he is?
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen is one of my favourite books of all time; Nielsen's characterisation of Sage is absolutely spot on! And while she did a wonderful job with her world building, her pacing and her plot, for me the great thrill of reading this book came from Sage's wondrously charming backtalk.
He has such a strong presence amongst the other characters, and a voice that can only be described as enchantingly rebellious. It only takes a page or two to fall in love with Sage.
Speaking of the plot, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the book. With books written with a first-person voice, it's almost instantly assumed that we readers are privy to every thought and secret held by the focalizer. We expect the twists and turns to come from outside influences, with our protagonist playing the role of the ignorant, inexperienced hero.
Well, prepare yourselves before you dive into Sage's tale, because that's a mindset Nielsen happily exploits time and time again. This is not a book that can be only read once.
The pacing of The False Prince is, to quote Mary Poppins, "practically perfect in every way". I liken a book's pacing to a movie's sound effects; if you ever notice it, there's something wrong. A book's pacing (as well as its world-building) is there to draw readers into another world, so as soon as the readers have slipped back into reality, the spark is lost.
Jennifer Nielsen had me hooked from the first page and didn't let go until hours after I'd finished the last.
In The False Prince, Nielsen has delivered what young boys (and girls) around the world have been desperately searching for; a good, clean book with a captivating story and a character who is relatable, hilarious and ingenious. I would highly recommend it for all children who love a bit of adventure, especially for those who devoured books like Christopher Paolini's Eragon and Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. The appropriate reading age bracket would most likely be 8 - 14, although many older readers (like me) will also adore this fresh take on the medieval fantasy genre.
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