Typically, I’m a bit leery of fantasies. I read them, but I go in expecting them to turn cliched and more about how well the author can describe a dragon scale or name a magic sword than about character or plot. Jennifer Nielsen, however, may have just changed that.
The story comes from the point of view of an orphan, Sage, who is in the act of absconding with a slightly-too-large roast as the tale begins. His grand theft dinner is foiled by a nobleman, Connor, who also seems intent on foiling Sage’s comfortable–if dismal–life. Intrigue builds as the story unfolds to reveal poisoned royalty, missing princes, and potentially deadly competition. A competition for the throne battled for by twenty nobles…and three orphans? The only problem being that not a one of them has any legal claim on the crown. Or do they?One of the primary things that really captured my attention was that The False Prince really didn’t read like most of the fantasies I’ve come across. It had a sharp, engaging tone that really made me want to hang around and see if any of that wit would rub off. That unpredictability really fit the character of Sage (who, I might add, is now a favorite on a long list of fictional favorite people).
And that brings us to Sage himself. In a phrase: Oh. My. Goodness. He’s defiant, he’s sarcastic, he’s self-reliant, and probably the ultimate problem child. Yet at the same time, he has a soft-spot. Whenever he sees an injustice (and there are plenty to spot), he goes through the roof and generally makes life miserable for the naughty people responsible. At the beginning of the book, he has a solid Look-out-for-#1 mentality, but by the time you hit the last page, Sage is noble, self-sacrificial, and even a little humble.
But he’s smart. He is always smart.
The plot was also rather smart. There have been a lot of “lost royalty” and “royal impersonator” books popping up in teen and juvenile fiction lately, but this was a really nice blend of those two. Not only were the tone and character fresh and original, so was the plot. Well done, Nielsen, well done (not that it means much from a unpublished teen, but still…)
Another thing I really appreciated about the book was the ending. The necessary twist came on late, but you could sort of pick up a glimmer of what it would be beforehand. It was a brilliant way to deepen the character, as well as make you love him all the more, and it set the stage for an utterly beautiful climax. It wasn’t a shocking climax( as with the twist), but it was incredibly satisfying. I was sitting there, figuring what would happen and flipping pages (yes, I did read them, not just skip to the end) like crazy just to get to that point so I could root for Sage. It was sort of like the ride to the peak of a roller-coaster, knowing what’s going to happen, seeing it coming, and bouncing in your seat waiting for it.
All in all, I adored the book. Jennifer Nielsen was utterly brilliant and I can’t wait to see more of her work.