The False Prince – Jennifer A. Nielsen

30 Jul

Series: Ascendance Trilogy #1
ISBN: 9780545284134
Genre: Fantasy – Political
Audience: Young Adult
Overall Rating: 9/10

The king and his family are dead, and one regent seeks to commit the highest form of fraud by resurrecting the younger prince, whose body was never found, and turn him into the new king. After collecting four orphans, the boys compete to become royalty. But as the story unravels, more layers of lies are unfolded, and it becomes clear that the only one telling the truth may be the best liar among them. Fraught with mystery, murder, and political intrigue, this well-written fantasy will keep every reader on the edge of his or her seat until the very end.

I have to admit that I did guess the ending before I started. Usually when that happens, I’m like, yeah, yeah, okay. But I experienced with this book the same strange sensation that I did when I figured out Crown Duel’s twist – it was the most fun, wild ride getting there that it simply didn’t matter. Despite having guessed correctly, the narration continually made me second guess myself. It started to seem as though my prediction would be impossible, until the very last second when all of the pieces clicked into place. In my opinion, it takes a master to do something like that.

That said, I love political fantasy, and this most certainly is one. The bloody battles and Middle Earth-like adventure don’t reside among the pages, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening. The fun thing about this book was that, while narrated in the first person by Sage, he is perhaps one of the best liars in a story about lies, cover-ups, and half-truths. And he doesn’t clue the reader in. We’re left to decipher truth from lie – not only those that he’s deciphering, but his own as well.

A lot goes on behind the scenes that the reader doesn’t find out about until later. It helps maintain the lie – the truth? – in such a spectacular way. Loyalties shift. Just when you think you have someone figured out, he changes. Friend turns into foe. Bad guy you were certain must be a good guy is actually a bad guy. It’s mind-boggling, so I’m sorry if this review is, too.

Let’s just say that I have been challenged. It takes a lot to do that. I read a great many books, you see, and it isn’t easy to catch me off guard. But this book did it. And it did it marvelously. I’m sad that this is a trilogy, but only because isn’t longer. Maybe she’ll pull a Paolini and give us a fourth. Of course, I’m already upset that I’m reviewing this with eight months to go to its release. And now I have to wait for book two? Are you kidding me?

I would like to mention that there is a bit of content. My advance copy says this is being marketed to 3-9th graders, and while the reading level may pass (though some of the humor may go over their heads at the younger end), cautious parents may want to beware murder and torture. Not saying it’s graphic, but if I was younger I would have been scared (of course, I couldn’t read Flesh, Blood and Bone in Goblet of Fire at night until I was eighteen. Bit of a wuss).

I love Sage. I love him. He has gone on my List of Characters I would Marry If They Were Real People, even though he’s only fifteen. He is the smartest, snarkiest, stubbornest teenaged character in the history of children’s literature, I am convinced of it. Yes, even worse (better) than Holden Caulfield, if you count him. Not even joking. I was laughing at his antics from page one, and the best part was, he wasn’t annoying. Disobedient to the point of idiocy sometimes – incorrigible, even – but I never found myself annoyed. Because he managed to be smart, snarky, and stubborn about things that mattered. He was adult about it. Not whiny, not stupid. I loved him. Love love love. So much love.

I was so in love with Sage that I thought the minor characters were okay. I would have liked to know more about Tobias and Roden and Cregan just to satiate my own curiosity, though I don’t think it would have been appropriate to include such information in the book. Maybe in the next one. You honestly don’t get to know a ton of the other characters that well, but it doesn’t matter, because that’s the way it should be. There was so much deceit that you could barely tell if you knew Sage. It was fantastic.

One character I am so excited to get to know is Amarinda. She seems the type of female character I could add to my list of Women Who Kick Butt. Imogen, too. And I just like the latter’s name.

The development of characters was just as deliciously mind-boggling as the plot itself was. Like I said, you think you know a person…

I was really, really sad to take a point off this book’s score. It’s probably my favorite book since reading Fire by Kristin Cashore. However, I was mildly disappointed with the setting. I felt like it could be any other-worldly fantasy setting – kingdom, strange country names, people ride horses. I didn’t have a “sense of place.” I hate using that phrase. I had a class labeled “Sense of Place” which I absolutely abhorred. It’s true, though – a story does need it. It needed something unique that made it stand out from the rest, and I didn’t feel that I had a strong enough view of Carthya. I would have liked to have seen the common people a bit more, and known what kind of problems they faced. What the economy was like. What kind of resources Carthya produced and traded. Something that made it a bit more real. I think such information will be more forthcoming in sequels, but a bit of it in this one would have been nice, too.

But honestly, I was so wrapped up in character and plot that setting didn’t matter TOO much. Certainly not enough to detract from the awesome of everything else. So I subtracted just one point. Grudgingly.


2 Responses to “The False Prince – Jennifer A. Nielsen”


  1. Book Review: The False Prince is Aptly Titled | 550 Words or Less - June 24, 2013

    […] friend of mine has been telling me to read Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, first in The Ascendance Trilogy, since before it […]

  2. Book Review: The Thief (Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner | More Than One Page - December 4, 2014

    […] might have been more impressed if I knew that it didn’t have to be this way. The more recent The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen had some similar elements and a similar “big reveal” and did it much better, in my […]

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