24 October 2013

Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen I originally featured Jennifer A. Nielsen's The False Prince a year ago because it was one of the initial picks for the Scholastic Mother-Daughter book club. At the time, I received the first few months' selections and didn't have time to read each book. I regret not reading this gripping story sooner.

Before I tell you about The False Prince, let me first tell you what it isn't. This is not a fantasy book: there are no dragons, wizards, or walking dead. Second, there are no dystopian elements to the story. And, finally, although there may be a love interest developing, there is no obsession; in fact, I don't think there is even a kiss.

The story takes place in the fictional medieval kingdom of Carthya, which is barely holding off its enemies. When rumors spread that the king, queen, and crown prince have been murdered, Lord Conner, one of the country's regents, decides to hatch a plan of daring and deceit. It will bring him much power and riches, but first he must find the perfect accomplice. Thus he scours the country's orphanages seeking boys who look like the king and queen's younger son, who was thought to have been killed by pirates only a few years earlier. Once Conner picks his candidates, he'll teach them everything they need to know to assume the role of Prince Jaron; the most promising boy will survive to rule, the others will face death. Conner is sure he can convince the other regents that young Jaron still lives.

Sage, Tobias, and Roden are the chosen teens, but Sage is our hero (and the narrator of the story). Sage is a thief and pickpocket, who has found success on the streets by being cunning, observant, and always defiant. He is not at all sure he wants to be king. Tobias and Roden are more power hungry, and each works hard to learn all he can about the royal family, to better pull off the deception.

The False Prince is full of adventure, secret plotting, and politics. There is a little bit of mystery and even a few red herrings and twisty surprises. Most readers will know right away which boy will be tapped to impersonate the prince, but even the most astute will be surprised at least a couple of times.

I loved all the characters, especially Sage and his manservant, Mott. But even the evil Lord Conner was complex enough to catch my attention. The False Prince is Sage's story, and his voice and personality are utterly believable. He hides a world of hurt behind his tough exterior; yet there is really no other way for a barely educated orphan to survive. The plot moves quickly, and Nielsen builds the tension perfectly. Although it's easy to root for Sage, you'll be less sure of the other characters, and you'll wonder whom the boy can trust.

Book clubs, educators, and parents will appreciate the deeper themes of the novel, including loyalty, family, duty, self-preservation, public and private personas, and honesty. The Scholastic Mother-Daughter Book Club website has a great set of discussion questions, and the main Scholastic site has a teaching guide.

The False Prince has been the recipient of many awards, among them a New York Times Notable Children's Book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and a Cybil Best Middle Grade Book of 2012. Besides numerous starred reviews and other praise, the trilogy has found a place in Hollywood, and I believe a screenplay is under development.

The unabridged audiobook edition (Scholastic Audio, 8 hr, 14 min) is read by Charlie McWade, whose performance is somewhat stilted, although he did an adequate job. The audiobook, however, includes two extras not found in the paperback edition of The False Prince. One is a short story, which provides some background into Sage's character. The other is a short piece read by the author, in which she discusses her influences and inspiration for the trilogy. Both are worth the listen.

Scholastic Press, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780545284134
Source: Review (print), bought (audio) (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).


bermudaonion 10/24/13, 10:29 AM  

I'm not crazy about that time period so one might not be for me.

Laura at Library of Clean Reads 10/24/13, 2:33 PM  

My daughter and I devoured this one. We read the second book and can't wait for the third installment.
BTW, love you new header!

Anonymous,  10/24/13, 7:45 PM  

I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

Daryl 10/25/13, 1:20 PM  

a variation on the prince and the pauper .. i am beginning to think there really are only 12 original storylines/plots

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