The False Prince--Jennifer A. Nielsen
April 2012 by Scholastic
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.
The False Prince takes some time to get into. It's not really a slow burning plot, it just takes some time to get used to Sage, our lovely narrator. I like a snarky narrator. Sage is not a snarky narrator. He's just obnoxious. He's stubborn and arrogant and, at times, kind of snotty. He gets more likeable as the book goes on, but for the first few chapters, he's just irritating. Once Sage tones down, we get to settle into an interesting plot with some good political machinations and scheming. And secret passage ways. And dagger wounds.
The plot twist is good, but I saw it coming. Neilsen may have dropped too many hints or I may have read enough books that I know what to expect out of stories like this. Either way, the twist left me feeling a bit betrayed. This is a first person narrative; we're supposed to know everything that our main character knows. That Sage pulls out all this secret information at the end of the book is cheating, even if it does make the climax more exciting.
I would have liked to see more development out of Conner. We've got a guy who develops a complicated political scheme that requires delicacy and precision. Neilsen could do so many cool things with a silver-tongued manipulator or misguided patriot. Instead, Conner just ends up as the bad guy who is bad because the plot requires a villain in a stock character sort of way.
Even as the beginning of a series, The False Prince can stand well as an independent novel. And not that it matters much to the plot, but why would you name one of your villains Cregan when you could name him Kregan? Come on! The letter K is so much more aggressive looking.