False Prince book review
False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen is a very well-written book. The pacing is crisp, the characters well-defined, the plot intricate and tight, and the prose engaging. It’s one of the most original stories I’ve read in quite some time.
The story follows the misadventures of a miscreant orphan named Sage. His surly, magpie ways get him into one hornet’s nest of trouble after another and it’s usually his fault. It’s as if his day is not complete if he has not broken some rule or put his life in danger. And indeed, soon after the novel begins he starts to learn some very hard lessons about just what his constant disobedience costs him.
The main plot of the novel centers around a plot to pass off a young boy as the prince of the fictional land of Carthya and eventually to place this false prince upon the throne. The actual prince was killed by pirates a few years ago. If the regents do not find some way to pull off this ruse the kingdom will be thrown into civil war. Sage is chosen for his passing resemblance to the deceased prince and also because the lost prince shared some of his surly character.
Sage’s problem is that he’s not the only orphan looking to change from pauper to prince. Three other boys are chosen as possible candidates for this dangerous scheme and it’s clear from early on, that those who do not make the cut will not live past the two weeks of training they have before the chosen one is presented before the court.
Deception is the name of the game
The premise is fascinating and yet, the deceptive nature of it at times taints the story. Since nearly everyone involved is complicit in the scheme, at times it is hard to find someone to root for. Sage is likable and sympathetic for the most part, but at times he is little better than the criminals taking advantage of him. One could argue he has little choice in the matter, but that doesn’t mean he always acts in an honorable way.
Another difficulty I had personally with the book is that it was presented to me as a fantasy novel. I’m not sure why I was under that impression, but apart from some fictional countries, there is nothing even vaguely fantastical here. It is a story of royalty and intrigue. A very good one, but not a fantasy story. If that’s what you are looking for (as I mistakenly was), you’ll not find it here.
One last final blemish is the odd way religion is portrayed. Numerous references are given to devils, as if they somehow controlled the fate of humanity. It’s passed off as nothing more than convention, and yet it keeps coming up so that it makes you think about what the author is trying to say, and that is never cleared up. Add in passing references to gods and priests and churches and it’s a rather muddled mess. It’s not a central aspect to the story but it detracts from the otherwise very clear and concise story and world-building.
A real “Sage” turner
I may have mentioned quite a few issues, but they don’t detract from the overall quality of the book. This is an extremely interesting, at times fascinating story. The plot has multiple twists and things foreshadowed earlier which turn out to be important later. The ending is especially strong, certainly the best part of an already extremely strong story.
In summary, a great read. It is extremely well told, compelling, and engaging. Pick it up if you’re looking for something original with a great plot and well-crafted characters. Just don’t read it thinking it’s a fantasy and you’ll be in good shape.