Author: Jennifer A. Neilsen
Publication Date: 4/1/2012
Blurb(GR): THE FALSE PRINCE is the thrilling first book in a brand-new trilogy filled with danger and deceit and hidden identities that will have readers rushing breathlessly to the end.
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.
An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.
This book makes me want to put on my blandest Mr. Darcy voice and declare it “tolerable…but not handsome enough to tempt me.” This book is fine. I think many of you will notice its exercise-brightened eyes and charming irreverence and fall for it. But for me, it was just okay.
If you’ve read any amount of young adult fantasy, you probably know where this book is heading just from reading the synopsis – or hell, even the title! I had a lot of hope that this book would go in an unexpected direction or bring something new to the table, but it didn’t. Of course I had to stick around for the ending just to make sure but hopefully I can now save someone else the time. If you think you know where this book is going, you probably do.
I have read other books (like Finnikin of the Rock) that had predictable outcomes as well, but that one at least had gorgeous writing, three dimensional characters, and impeccable world-building to keep me satisfied. This book had none of the above. My friend Tatiana recently used the term “fantasy lite” in one of her reviews and I think this book fits that label perfectly. The world-building is very simplistic and barely deserves the title “fantasy”: a vaguely historical setting with almost no real culture, religion, or background. There is some small mention of a conflict with a few neighboring nations that is never developed. The main character is an argumentative, willful, scrappy boy who’s discovered in an orphanage by a man looking to train and install a look-alike as king (a puppet king, of course). He talks back, he pretends to be foolish, and of course he’s so much more than he appears to be. In summary: he’s Eugenides-lite.
None of the other characters left more than surface impressions on me and I found it difficult to care about any of them. There is an attempt here at an unreliable first-person narrator that doesn’t quite succeed. Yes, Sage lies and pretends to be something he’s not, but the “little hints” about his true identity that are frequently dropped are so obvious that it’s hard not to get frustrated. And even his deception starts to feel illogical by the end. Why is he hiding who he is again? Why doesn’t he tell Mott? Or Imogen? Or Tobias? I can think of no reason except to possibly heighten the drama of his eventual reveal, which is so long in coming that I felt no excitement - only relief - when it finally came.
Additionally, any intimacy that I felt with Sage’s point of view is effectively ruined by two sections of the book that are written in the third person. Why? I can think of nothing that is gained by showing us those two scenes in the third person. Yes, there is important action going on while the narrator is not present and yes, his entrance is supposed to be a big, climactic scene so in theory it might be nice to be able to see it as a member of the audience. But when you’ve committed the entire book to Sage’s point of view, it feels glaring and alienating to suddenly be thrust into a third person perspective. There are also a few scenes where Sage “checks out” for hours at a time. His narration is allowed convenient lapses so that he may go off and do secret-secret things without the reader knowing about it. It all feels as if the author didn’t quite know how to negotiate between an intimate first person narrator and the number of secrets that she wanted to keep from the reader. The end result is a very obvious, distanced, boring narrative.
Wow. I thought that I was so-so about this book but apparently I disliked it more than I realized. I was originally thinking that even though I didn’t quite like it, it might still be a good recommendation for younger readers. But don’t young readers deserve to have great characters, world-building, and writing too? Why not read Finnikin of the Rock, The Thief, Book of a Thousand Days, Graceling, Crown Duel, or the many other well-written young adult fantasy novels instead?