Sunday, July 22, 2012

Review: THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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.
A big thing for me as a blogger is to be objective in my reviews. I don't want to careen wildly to one side or the other. If I like or don't like a review, I'll say so, but I try to keep my reasons balanced and fair.

I can't do that with this book. Some people may not agree with my reasoning. They may read my review and feel underwhelmed or just not get it at all.

But here's the honest-to-goodness, completely biased truth: I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.
I don't know how Ms. Nielsen feels about being compared to other authors. Some authors get a little prickly and talk about being unique and their own person, etc. etc. I won't deny that.

But I've been searching for years for a book like this. Years. You all know how much I love The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. It's the opening book for what I consider to be the best series of all time. I won't repeat my glowing praise from my review of that book to keep from boring you more than I already am. But ever since falling in love with Gen and his crew, I've been searching for a book with the same feel.

Some books have gotten close. The Girl of Fire and Thorns, in particular, has the same political twistiness as MWT's King of Attolia, but Elisa is no Gen.

Make no mistake, Sage is no Gen either. No one can be Gen. But I wouldn't be surprised if they were related... distant cousins, maybe.

Because Sage is just that cool.

He's an orphan and brazenly proud of his independence. He's rude and unmannerly. He's a liar and a coward. He's opinionated and loud and never knows when to just shut up. He's also brave, in his own way. He won't stand for bullies or traitors. And he will not  - WILL NOT - bow to anyone else's will, not even Conner's.

I had so much fun following Sage around. Again, that was mostly because it was like meeting a version of Gen, Gen's son maybe. But even without knowing the original Thief, it's ridiculously hard not to be completely smitten with this new thief. Since we're viewers of his antics and not the recipient of his sharp tongue, we're given the luxury of being impressed and amused instead of frustrated. And even the wishes-he-was-unflappable Conner gets very frustrated with Sage.

Speaking of Conner, what a guy. I half-expected him to be like MWT's magus - overly loyal to his country but a staunch guy in the end. (Squee, magus.) Nope. Sure, Conner thinks he's doing what's right for the country, but really I thought he was a cold-blooded, murderous snake. Excellent!

Along with being cold-blooded is the understanding that having a contingency plan is always prudent. Though Sage has the cocky attitude of the departed prince, Conner isn't willing to place all his proverbial eggs in one sharp-tongued basket. He recruits three other orphans, Roden, Tobias, and Latamer, to compete with Sage for the role. Latamer looks like the prince, Roden is a fast learner, and Tobias is pliable. They're fleshed out to various degrees, and I was particularly impressed with the different shades of ruthlessness in some of the boys.

There is no spirited alliance or chummy camaraderie. This is no Hunger Games, but the boys are certainly fighting for the right to survive. Conner makes the importance of secrecy very clear early on in the book. Once a prince is crowned, the other competitors will be silenced with the sharp edge of a blade. I also liked that their ruthlessness was tempered with genuine human feelings. None of the boys are killing machines a la Marvel or Cato or Glimmer. They're just orphan boys, hoping for fame and power and desperately trying to stay alive.

Conner also has two lackeys, Cregan and Mott, to keep the boys in line. Cregan is the main thug, merciless and proud of it. Mott is a little more shaded. He's still under Conner's thumb, but he has a bit more heart than Cregan. Actually, he reminds me of Pol (another Thief reference). Yay Pol, and therefore yay Mott!

Me while reading this book
I don't have much to say about the plot and the writing other than to say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Watching Sage fight Conner at every turn while systematically also pushing his way to the top was very entertaining. Also, there's a Big Twist that I guessed by page 54 (actually, I guessed before I picked up the book), but I blame that on my heavy diet of mysteries and MWT books. Though I guessed the twist early on, that did not in any way diminish my enjoyment of the book. I was thoroughly engrossed to the very end, and I was painfully tense during the climax that things wouldn't work out just right for Sage.

Negatives... I think the info dump that was part of the Big Twist could have been handled in chunks rather than one big stack. Also, as I said, I did guess the Big Twist (and some of the little twists, too, though not all of them). I'm sure a few people would be miffed at the similarities between The False Prince and The Thief, but I'm not one of them.

I repeat: I LOVED THIS BOOK. It's definitely a must-buy. And if the sequel is even half as good as Queen of Attolia (my favorite book EVER, bar none), I'll die a happy woman.

I leave you with my favorite quote, a moment of levity during a life-and-death scene.
"I'm still better than you."
"Perhaps, but I'm handsomer, don't you think?"
Points Added For: Pretty much everything, but especially Sage and Mott. Oh, and I have a secret soft spot for Latamer.

Points Subtracted For: An unwieldy info dump.

Good For Fans Of: Megan Whalen Turner, Serafina by Rachel Hartman (so I've gathered), and Thief's Covenant by Ari Marmell (so I've gathered).

Notes For Parents: I don't remember any language. There is also no sex. There is some violence, including murder and beatings.

Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide