Justin's Reviews > The False Prince

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
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Feb 23, 12

bookshelves: arc, fantasy, young-adult
Read from February 11 to 22, 2012

This is exactly the kind of fantasy I used to love when I was a kid: no-frills action with a charming rogue protagonist. Nielsen has done something admirable with this book, eschewing the high fantasy tropes that would work so well with an audience accustomed to wizards and dragons, and instead focusing solely on royal intrigue. I enjoyed this book because it falls within the spectrum of gritty fantasy, which is my genre of choice. It’s unfortunately hampered by a few major problems, though, even if those problems are only an issue for readers outside the target audience.

The story itself is pretty straightforward, and neatly summarized in the book’s blurb: Sage, a wily orphan, gets noticed by a passing nobleman, Lord Conner, and is recruited against his will for a scheme to take the throne of Carthya by deception. Unfortunately for Sage, he’s not the only orphan Lord Conner notices. There are three potential princes, but only one throne. Sage and his two new companions have a short amount of time to convince Lord Conner that they are the best fit for the plan, and it is painfully clear what will become of the two boys he does not choose. Sage, however, has a plan of his own- one more dangerous than even Lord Conner’s, but one that will hopefully keep all three of the false princes alive.

The plot certainly delivers on its premise, with a sense of urgency that is expertly maintained throughout the book. I sped through this book, due to its ability to keep me turning pages to find out what happens next. However, some of the methods Nielsen uses to keep the action going are used rather clumsily, and sometimes fail entirely. The main characters are surprisingly inconsistent; they are written as layered and unpredictable, but are prone to saying and doing things that are wildly out of character in order to move the story along. A pivotal scene in which Sage gains the upper hand over one of the other boys revolves around an event that makes no sense at all, either in the mechanics of the scene or in the motivations of the characters. There’s a twist near the end that helps bring the story to a close, but it’s a twist that’s easy to see coming and has enough drawing-room justification to feel too tidy.

It also must be mentioned that the book is written in the first person with Sage narrating, but as we get to the climactic scene at the end, we suddenly switch to omniscient third-person narration for a chapter. I understand that Sage's dramatic entrance at this point is the book's big payoff, but instead of sticking with him the whole way or alternating perspectives throughout the story, we have only this one third-person chapter. Maybe I’m being snobby, but that’s egregiously bad writing. Especially considering that it comes on the heels of a chapter-long flashback.

So, there are some definite flaws in execution, and the story’s resolution is a bit too convenient to be memorable. In the interest of fairness, though, this book is meant for a middle-grade to younger teen audience, who won't care a bit for these problems. Experienced fantasy readers will find this book unremarkable, but the suspense is ratcheted up to a nice level, the world-building is decent, and the pace is quick and enjoyable. This would be a good choice for newcomers to the genre who would like some human drama and intrigue in their fantasy books, and I would recommend it without qualification to younger readers looking for fantasy adventure.
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