The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False PrinceReading level: 6
Lexile: 710
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy, book 1
Genre: Adventure, fantasy
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

Okay wow. Let’s start with that.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of Sage. I started to really dislike him because of his arrogance, but he grew on me quickly, especially after his insecurities become clearer and we see that he can be a kind (and incredibly clever) person. By the end, I learned to not necessary love him but admire him a great deal.

Conner reminded me of Mayor Prentiss from the Chaos Walking Series. Both are excellent villains that part of me loathed and part of me wanted to trust because they are so convincing. With the exceptions that I’ll write about in a second, all the characters are unique, complex, and amazingly written. Listening to the author talk about them, you’d think they were sitting with her while she wrote the story.

The only part that bothered me about The False Prince was the lack of women. There are two female characters. One is the princess who will marry the prince, but she has a minor say in all of this and doesn’t want to marry Prince Jaron but has to anyway. The second female is Imogen. She is content being a slave, takes beatings and verbal punishments, and, for reasons I cannot understand, trusts Sage with her deepest secret. The princess will probably have a larger role later in the series, and I have every hope that she will show her true colors and be another great character. My audiobook copy has a section at the end where Jennifer Nielsen talks about her book and the characters, and I think Imogen will redeem herself, too. Nielsen has plans for these ladies.

It’s basically ELL-friendly except for names of people and places and maybe some vocabulary here and there. The setting reminds me of Europe in the last few hundred years, thus making various names sound outdated. I could really see boys getting into this series because, like I said, there are only 2 female characters, it’s not all romantic, it’s full of adventure, and there are surprises, deceit, and danger at every turn.

I’m not going to spoil anything, but there are a few plot twists that really got me – in the best possible way. Nielsen writes the story from Sage’s viewpoint, and just as Conner and the boys are lying to and deceiving each other, Sage is keeping details from the reader that we would never suspect.

The False Prince is my twenty-fifth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

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