The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Sep 18, 2020

I used to try to make an effort to read at least some of the same books as my kids. But lately, I haven't had much of an interest in their reading material. For most of fourth grade, Maxwell's favorite series (along with its multiple spinoff series) was Warriors. In case you couldn't guess, action packed drama involving warring cat clans is definitely not my thing. 

Aaron is a much more eclectic reader than Max, but this summer he has either been reading books that I recommended (which I've already read) or long-winded fantasy series (also not my thing).

As part of our summer reading program, the boys could earn a book after twenty hours of reading (ten hours for Clark). For the first two months of summer, Aaron was literally earning at least one book every week. At one point, we kind of ran out of ideas, so I had him look through this excellent list of adventure books from Erica at What Do We Do All Day (seriously, all of her lists are good, but this one is a particular gold mine). He selected The False Prince, and after reading through the summary, I said, "Hey, that actually sounds like a book I might like, too." 

Luckily, knowing that his mom might be interested in the same book as him is not a turnoff for Aaron. Once he was done with it and confirmed that it was very good, I checked out the audio and gave it a listen. 

Although his life is not luxurious in any way, orphan Sage is quick on his feet with an even quicker mouth, so he gets by just fine. But one day, just after stealing a ham, his life makes an abrupt turn when a man named Connor, one of the country's regents, stops by the orphanage and handpicks Sage for a secret project.

After a great struggle with some complaining and insults thrown in, Sage finds himself in the back of a wagon with three other boys: Vladimir, Tobias, and Roden. They exchange what little information they know, but it is soon clear that the four of them were chosen for a role that only one of them will ultimately fill. Connor gives each of them the chance to leave before he reveals the full plan, and when Vladimir accepts the offer, Connor has him shot in the back before he even leaves the campsite. The other boys quickly realize this isn't a game, and Connor will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

And what does he want? To save the kingdom of Carthia from war and destruction. The king, queen, and prince have just been murdered, leaving no heir to the throne. There was a second son, Jaron, who was  supposedly killed by pirates four years before, but his body was never found. Connor has evidence that Jaron actually did die, but he plans to take advantage of the hope the country still has that Jaron is alive. 

And that is where Sage and the other boys come in. Connor takes them to his estate for two weeks where he trains them in all of the arts, graces, knowledge, and traits of Prince Jaron. At the end of the testing period, he will choose one of them to be presented as the long-lost Prince Jaron and ascend the throne as the rightful king of Carthia. 

I listened to an interview with Jennifer Nielsen about writing this book, and she said that once she had the character of Sage firmly in her mind, everything else fell into place. She said that Sage became this living, breathing person for her, and she would think about him constantly and what he would do in various situations in her actual life. 

When I heard the way she talked about Sage, it suddenly made sense why the story worked so well for me. It was because Sage was so convincing--even with his conflicting actions and attitudes. He was 100% believable, and I think a lot of that had to do with Jennifer Nielsen's relationship with him: it was affectionate and personal and very intimate. He wasn't just some character that she dreamed up to execute a certain idea. She took the time to get to know him--his layered complexity that made the story so rich and thrilling.

I'm so glad she took the time to get him right because if Sage hadn't clicked for me, the whole story would have fallen flat. As it was, I enjoyed the whole thing very much and thought it had some good twists and turns.

This one is the first book in the series, but I can't decide if I want to read any of the others or not. I honestly kind of liked it as a standalone novel. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm worried that Sage won't be as fascinating or exciting of a character in subsequent books, and since he was the reason why I loved this book so much, I just don't want to risk ruining that. 

I would place this book solidly in the 10-14 age range, but a younger child could enjoy it as a readaloud, and I obviously still enjoyed it very much as an adult. 

1 comment:

  1. I loved handing books back and forth with my boys. I mean, I still do, but that is about the age where it became very much a two way street. I think I got this book from my kid too.


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