The False Prince is the first book in a new mid-grade medieval fantasy trilogy from Jennifer A. Nielsen. I received it in my big box of awesome from Scholastic, and am so glad it was in there. This book is seriously fantastic.
The False Prince is the story of Sage, a 14-year-old orphan struggling to survive in the fictional kingdom of Carthya. At the opening of the book, Sage is purchased by Conner, a wealthy nobleman. Conner also purchases three other boys similar in age and appearance to Sage. The boys aren’t sure of the reason for Conner rounding up orphans, but they know it’s probably not good.
Soon, Conner reveals his plot: he intends to groom them to impersonate Prince Jaron, lost prince of Carthya, so that one of them can take over the throne and save the kingdom. They will have two weeks to transform into Jaron. One of the will be selected for a future of luxury and power. The other three, Conner implies, will not have much of a future at all.
Through the two weeks leading up to Conner’s selection, Sage and the other boys struggle to learn all the skills and knowledge befitting a prince, from swordplay and horseback riding to reading, table manners, and the history of Carthya. Their competition is fueled by the knowledge that not being chosen by Conner will result in a fate worse than any they faced in their previous lives as orphans.
This book was so much fun to read. It was a refreshing change of pace from many of the other books I’ve been reading lately. The False Prince is a witty and engrossing story that doesn’t have a ton of action or adventure, but has plenty of intrigue fueled by engaging characters.
Sage narrates the book in the first person, but he only ever lets us know as much as he wants us to know. So there were several surprises throughout the course of the narrative, when Sage finally decided to clue us into a past action or motivation.
I loved the characters in this book. Nearly all of them were nuanced, with no clear-cut bad guys or good guys (at least until the end). Even Conner, with his devious and treacherous plot, keeps you guessing as to his true motivations. And while Sage starts out disliking his fellow princes-in-training, he eventually forms a tenuous friendship with them as we understand that they, too, are just 14-year-old boys that are in over their heads.
As for Sage himself, he was clever, witty, and reckless. He was frustrating at times, but what 14-year-old boy isn’t? It was exciting to see the story unfold through his eyes. And although Sage is indisputably the hero of this story, he has definite weaknesses and flaws, which is kind of refreshing. Too often I think male protagonists are just good at everything, and it gets annoying. Sage can indeed be annoying, but it’s not because he’s The Awesomest Ever. It’s because he’s a kid, and kids can be kind of annoying. But he was also likable and charismatic, and I was completely rooting for him.
And the story…I just loved it. It’s a fairly simple story that takes place almost entirely in the same setting (Conner’s estate). But the challenges the boys face, the constant threat of what Conner will do with the boys who are not chosen, and the slow revealing of the nature of the royal court of Carthya, made this book hard to put down.
Actually, it was impossible to put down. I thought I was going to put it down and go bed, and then a huge twist completely woke me up. So I wound up reading the entire thing in one day.
Although this is the first book in a trilogy, the ending wraps up the events in this book neatly. So you won’t find yourself frustrated with a cliffhanger ending. I kind of hate when a book ends on a cliffhanger, then I have to wait months (or more) to find out what happens. This one is open to sequels, but doesn’t need a sequel for you to feel satisfied.
I’d recommend this book to anyone, be they young teens or adults, male or female. It’s easy to read, totally engrossing, and left me feeling utterly content and happy at the end. Needless to say, I am eagerly awaiting the sequel!
Content Guide: Contains violence