The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Book One of the Ascendance Trilogy
Scholastic Press, 2012.
hardcover, 342 pages. borrowed from Library.
“Four boys. One treacherous plan. An entire kingdom to fool.”
In Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, four orphans compete for the role of the lost prince in a bold plan to prevent civil war and strengthen the kingdom against predatory neighbors. The consequences of losing are fatal.
The first-person narrator, Sage, is a wit and a half, and we can also be doubly assured of who the winner of the competition will be.* Nonetheless, Nielsen does not make the succeeding easy and strives for as breathless a competition manageable. She kicks it off with an unforgettable beginning.
The competition creates a lot of difficulties for the characters and the reader. Just how noble are Connors intentions and how far is he willing to go to bring the kingdom not only to an equitable state, but one on the return to power? How far are the boys willing to go to win? Each begin with disadvantages, trying to emulate a second son of the king who was viewed as incorrigible. The closest personality type is Sage who has the daring, luck, and sense of humor to ease the dark plot and competition into a lighter juvenile adventure.
The novel takes a shift at chapter 42 (p. 258). I would have liked to seen a Part II divider here (and am curious why there isn’t). The division of parts would have finessed the transition. The narrator’s chair opens up, and subsequently, the story-telling takes on a different mien. The first person limited to Sage shifts from the present to a past with Queen Erin and then to the young Prince Jaron before returning to Sage in the present where we all can make the aha! that Mott does at the end of chapter 41. The one we were expected to make by then anyway (right?). The shift is brilliant in the sense that the author can contribute a new angle to an otherwise predictable trajectory and refresh the adventure Sage has embarked upon however involuntarily.
The adventure is a bold one (as the jacket copy swears it is); it is full of danger, and has a healthy heaping of lies to keep the intrigue turning up until the very end where you can truly appreciate the cleverness of the book’s title. I have no real sense where Nielson is going to take this trilogy, but I am very much looking forward to whatever it is she has for us.
recommendations… 10&up, girls and boys. fans adventure, intrigue, and/or fantasy. It is a quick-paced read and should hold even the least avid reader’s attention.
of note: Sage reminded me of Will from John Flanagan’s wonderful The Ranger’s Apprentice series—which is a good thing. Also, the book could be a stand alone, but I had one of those rare moments (of late) of “why not?”
I heard a rumor this has been optioned for film. If I had my druthers, animation would be the way to go; child actors in medieval garb…does that ever turn out well?
*Doubly because he is the protagonist and this is book one of a trilogy. [Natalya concurs: even though she knew Sage would survive, Nielsen was able to keep her interested in the outcome in other ways, like what exactly will happen to the others? And, ultimately, will Sage pull this off–and how?]
The Mixed Up Files…interview w/ Ms. Nielsen
It’s All About Books‘ take.
One Librarian’s Book Reviews review.