Some books make the circuit of lots of blogs I read…and sometimes it still takes me a long time to get to them! I finally picked up The False Prince by Jennifer A. Neilson, after seeing rave reviews from other bloggers. And the good thing about waiting so long? The rest of the trilogy is already out!
The False Prince is told to us by Sage, an orphan boy who is one day plucked from his orphanage by Conner, a wealthy noble with a sinister manner. Sage soon learns that Conner is collecting orphan boys, intending to train them to pose as the long-lost Prince Jaron and prevent a succession crisis leading to civil war. But only one boy will be chosen for the role, and Conner’s ruthlessness and secrecy make it clear that those left unchosen will be killed.
This was an excellent read, full of political intrigue and mystery. The political background was effective for creating a tense and perilous situation, without getting so complicated that I got lost in the factions and machinations. And the mysteries–well, I guessed the book’s major twist about halfway through, but that was actually good. It kept me reading to see if I was right! I liked the tone and style as well. It feels like a very familiar, medieval-era fantasy world…except there isn’t actually any magic!
I liked Sage very much as a narrator. He reminded me strongly of Gen from The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. They’re both rude, uncouth and irritable, claiming to have no regard for anyone, while being the secret champion of anyone in need. I think this is another Character Type, related to the Dark Brooding Hero With a Heart of Gold, but keeping the world at bay by being rude instead of being, well, brooding! Sage kept me at bay for the first few chapters, but I came around on him fairly quickly.
Conner is a chilling villain, all the more dangerous because he couches his most ruthless acts in the guise of patriotism and concern for the general welfare. An early murder makes it clear that this is not a nice man, but he still walks a fine line–is he a self-serving demon, or is he a hard man making a hard choices in a genuine desire to secure the country?
Conner is especially effective as a villain because of the backdrop he appears against. Most of the characters we meet or hear about follow two principles–either they care only about their own gain, or they believe (to quote Mr. Spock) that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, however much the one has to pay as consequence.
That makes this sound like a terribly grim book! It is to a point, but it’s a fine balance…the book is not strong on self-sacrificing heroes, but many of the more sympathetic characters, while adhering to one of the principles above, are doing their best with the Kobayashi Maru–that is, in no-win situations.
And at the risk of a very mild spoiler, I will promise there is a (predominantly) happy ending. The last portion of the book became a page-turner, and I was afraid I was going to hit a cliffhanger before the resolution I was turning pages to reach–but the book ended very satisfyingly. In a way it left me with a new worry. So many of the chief threads and conflicts were resolved, I worry that the next book won’t have anywhere as interesting to go! But I guess I’ll find out. I’ve already reserved it from the library. 🙂
Author’s Site: http://www.jennielsen.com/
Buy it here: The False Prince