Book Review: “The False Prince” by Jennifer Nielsen

I was originally going to do this book review on another book I recently finished (yes, I’ve already read two books for the new year), but my stepsister sent me a trilogy for Christmas that looked really promising. And, indeed, I devoured the first book, “The False Prince” of the Ascendancy trilogy.

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Let me first say that these books are meant for middle school and high schoolers. My stepsister teaches elementary school, so she often sends me what would be considered “children’s books.” Not quite young adult, but these series still has some pretty heavy themes, I will say. It’s just not verbose or difficult to read. Some people believe that adults shouldn’t read children’s/young adults books…perhaps that an argument for another time. (I find it ridiculous.)

Anyway, on to the…

Plot Review (Spoilers!)

The False Prince opens with our main character, Sage – an orphan – stealing from a butcher and then getting caught. He is caught be a nobleman, Connor, who purchases him from the orphanage. Sage is almost 15, extremely mischievous and witty and clever, but definitely someone who gets himself into trouble and can’t keep his head down.

Now, there are two other orphans in the carriage with Connor, along with two of Connor’s lackeys. They stop at one more place and pick up another orphan. That night, Connor tells them why he’s chosen them: he’s going to make one of them King. The Royal family of Carthya, where the story takes place, has been poisoned and the country doesn’t know it yet. What Connor wants to do is have one of these orphans pretend to be the lost prince, Jaron.

Jaron had been killed, supposedly, by pirates four years prior. However, the body had never been found. Connor believes that he can train one of these boys to pretend to be the Prince and have him become King. Connor believes he’s a patriot and doing this to save his country from a civil war, as the regents (kind of like a House of Lords) would tear each other apart to chose a new King if Jaron didn’t step forth. Connor gives them an out: if you want to leave, leave. One of the boys, a sickly one named Latamore says he will leave and Connor has him shot. Basically, this shit is serious and it’s assumed whoever he doesn’t pick to be King, those two boys will die.

They travel on to Connor’s home and begin training. Basically, Sage gets himself into a lot of travel, it’s constantly fighting with Connor and doesn’t want Connor to “break” him. At the same time, he knows he can’t escape since he knows about the plan. Connor tells them that he has proof that Joran is alive and that when he gives it to the one he chooses to be prince he’ll definitely be accepted by the regents. Now, Tobias is the smartest of the orphans chosen. Roden is the strongest and best with a sword. Sage is simply average and hardly pays attention in class. Cregan, one of Connor’s lackeys, hates him; but the other, Mott, supports him. Sage also befriends a servant named Imogen who is mute but seems to get beat up by other servants.

One day, Connor takes a rock that Sage had been caring with him and Sage demands it back, finally stealing it back from him. For this, Connor has Sage severely whipped to demand the location of the rock. However, Sage doesn’t give in and never tells. Connor finally releases him but Sage is no far behind in the competition. Tobias believes he’s the front runner and says he has plans to take out Connor once he’s King.

Sage starts to tease and infuriate Tobias, who eventually follows him one night and cuts him in the back and threatens to kill him. However, Sage tricks him and Connor figures out that Tobias attacked Sage, essentially eliminating him from the competition. Moreover, Sage had told Connor about Tobias’s plans for eliminating Connor after being chosen prince. Tobias promises Sage, if he keeps him alive, he’ll serve him. Imogen helped heal Sage, taking care of him, and revealing that she actually can speak.

The Princess that was betrothed to Joran’s older brother, the heir, Darius, comes to visit. Sage ends up speaking with her and she tells him the rumors of the royal family being dead, asking Sage if he believed it. The Princess continues on to the capital. The following day, word gets back that the head regent, Vendgarth, is on his way to Connor’s home to search and kill the prince. The three orphans hide, but Tobias reveals that he had papers hidden in a mattress hat the soldiers will find while they’re scouring the house. Sage retrieves the papers but a soldier notices him and Imogen – who was trying to help him – and Sage has to kill him.

Connor ends up choosing Roden to be the prince because he realizes he could never break and control Sage. However, at the last moment, as Sage is doing a trick with coin, Connor notes that Jaron was known for that trick and ends up taking Sage. Sage demands that Imogen, Roden, and Tobias all come along with them: thus saving their lives from Connor, who was planning on killing them. Before they leave, Sage goes out to the river and picks up a stone and Mott follows him, asking about it. Sage reveals to Mott that he is actually Jaron.

It turns out that Jaron had been sent by his parents when he was 10 to boarding school in another country; but before the pirates could attack, Jaron fled the boat, angered by what his parents were doing to him, and thus, saving himself. His brother finds him in the neighboring country, Avenia, and sends his father, the King, to him. The King tells Jaron that he cannot come home. If he is alive, the King will have to declare war on Avenia because they had tried to kill Jaron. But if no body is recovered, he can stall. The King was always perceived as weak, since he never confronted his neighboring, warring countries and often compromised. The King tells Jaron to change his identity and plan to always be that person, but gives him a rock telling him to say it’s gold to the high chamberlain should the time ever arise. The King was also planning on having Jaron in hiding to protect him from threats, though Jaron never knew this until now. He made it by by becoming a thief and had all but rid himself of his life as Jaron.

They make it to the capital where many other nobles are also claiming to have Jaron. Connor reveals he has Jaron’s Crown, which he had gotten from the pirate ship, as he had sent the attacks; and a picture his mother, the Queen, had drawn of him, which will confirm his authenticity (he still doesn’t know Sage is actually Jaron). They sneak into the castle, but Cregan and Roden attack, saying they do not want Sage to be crowned prince (no one but Mott knows he’s the actual prince). Sage defeats Roden and Mott kills Cregan. Sage tells Roden to run and never come back. He feigns being hurt and send Connor on ahead to alert the other regents, but comes around another way so that it’s not Connor that presents him as if he found him, but more that he had returned on his own. He finally does present himself, proving that he is Joran – shocking Connor – and telling everyone that Connor tried to kill him four years ago and had his family murdered, as he found a poisonous vial in his house. Jaron is then crowned King and promotes Imogen to a nobel to reward her.

Thoughts

It was simply written book, but still kept you on the edge of your seat. I did not see what was coming until it happened – so it was cleverly disguised. Sage is thoroughly Sage and plays his role well. The twists are well done and cleverly written. Sage is hilarious and witty – though I think he sounds a lot older than the almost 15 he’s supposed to be. I think he’d easily pass for 16-17 and it’d be a young adult book. The plot itself moves sometimes slow as they are just in “training” for two weeks basically during the majority of the novel. But with short chapters and simple writing, it doesn’t take as long as it feels it should.

The book, for a “children’s book” still discusses honor, sportsmanship, survival, death, just war and such things like that. It even has politics and murder! I think it’s a wonderful book: not terribly confusing but thoroughly enjoyable. I can’t wait to read the next two books!

Rating: 4.5/5

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About ambfso

Currently in Portuguese language training. Next post: Sao Paulo, Brazil