Wednesday, April 4, 2012

REVIEW: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1) The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Slight Spoilers

Feeble Latamer. Boastful Roden. Bookish Tobias. Defiant Sage. Four boys. One throne. Who will become America's Next Top Model Carthya's Next Reigning King? In ANTM the reality TV show, the contestants choose to participate and if they lose then they are sent home. In The False Prince, the contestants are coerced to participate and if they lose then they are sentenced to death. At the end, there will be only one one winner, one survivor.

The False Prince is told from Sage's side in 1st PoV as he try to survive a mad nobleman's plan to usurp the throne. The king, the queen, and the crown prince are dead. The youngest son of the royal family Jaron is lost and presumed to be dead... Or is he? The four boys coerced by Conner all look physically similar to Jaron. The winner will become the imposter puppet prince.

TFP starts off with Conner and his two henchmen, Mott and Cregan, kidnapping Sage. When Sage wakes up, he soon encounter the other orphans. Right off in chapter 3, one of the orphans gets killed — the feeble Latamer. With this quick cruel act, the story pushes the following points: 1) Conner is ruthless. 2) This is serious business. 3) There is no escape. 4) Every orphan for himself. And 5) Only one boy will survive.

Thus begins a tale of treason and treachery with an approximate word count of 77,000.
“You’re a trick to figure out, Sage. Would you ever be on my side, even if I chose you above the other boys?”

“I’m only on my side. Your trick will be convincing me that helping you helps me.”

“What if I did?” Conner asked. “How far would you go to win?”

“The better question, sir, is how far you will go to win.” I looked him steadily in the eyes as I spoke, although his back was to the fire and his eyes were set in shadow. “You killed Latamer. So we know you’re willing to murder to win.”

“I am.” Conner backed up, speaking to all of us again. “And I’m willing to lie, to cheat, and to steal. I’m willing to commend my soul to the devils if necessary because I believe there is exoneration in my cause. I need one of you to conduct the greatest fraud ever perpetrated within the country of Carthya. This is a lifetime commitment. It will never be safe to back down from my plan and tell the truth. To do so would destroy not only you but the entire country. And you will do it to save Carthya.”
The Characters

+++ Sage the defiant orphan, our hero

A thief. A liar. From start to finish, Sage was one of the best characters I have read about. One of the criteria for me to 5-stars rate a book is that the book must have a kick-ass protagonist. Sage was a kick-ass protagonist.

Sage's biggest flaw, beside being a thief and a liar, is that his cleverness sometime slips into foolishness of the life-or-death kinds. Yet for all his shortcomings, he care for the downtrodden, keep his promises, and kill only in self-defense. There was never a moment when my sympathy for Sage slipped, never a moment when I got irritated by him either. Sage is well aware of the defects in his character and quick to realize the consequences of his action. He deals with them, he get things done, he survive.

Sage acted convincingly as a poor orphan. Who have time to mope and moan about the disadvantages about one's life and the unfairness of it all when you're too busy trying to survive. Sage doesn't mope. He may worry. He may regret. He may make mistakes, get into more life-threatening situations, and bitch about them. But he never mope. He survive.

+++ Conner the ruthless noble, our villain

Conner is what we in the modern world would call a terrorist. He says his plan will save the kingdom, that what he doing is patriotic. He says he doesn't want the throne itself, that he just wants a prince who will become a king that will listen to his ever so wise advice. He says the death of three young orphans is regrettable, but the surviving one will help him save the kingdom!

I hate Conner because he's the villain, he's the reason for our hero's predicament. He fucking killed poor Latamer! But I also love Conner because he was deliciously ruthless and mad. Sage and Conner shared several traits such as a skill for scheming, but the biggest thing that separated them was genuine empathy. Empathy for your fellow humans. Sage has that, Conner doesn't. Despite whatever BS Conner spout, his action speak the loudest and it says he is self-serving and delusional.

+++ Tobias and Roden the other orphans, our hero's rivals

It would have too easy to typecast Tobias as the brainy but bashful orphan and Roden as the brawny but butt-headed orphan, but the story didn't. Tobias and Roden tried their best to out-scheme Sage and each other. All the boys knew each other's talent and knew well that there wasn't a chance to outperform their rivals' talent so they relied on psychological warfare. Our hero, Sage, may be the cleverest of them all but he is human and he cannot be cleverer than the others all the time.

+++ Imogen and Amarinda, our hero's potential love interests

I say potential love interests because in TFP neither girls liked Sage in that way. I even hesitate to say they are love interests because their role was relatively small — they were supporting characters. Plus, I believe the reason Sage paid attention to these girls because he couldn't look away from a person in hurt.

Imogen is a mute servant oppressed in Conner's castle, while Amarinda is a foreign princess betrothed to whoever becomes the king of Carthya. First impression says they are damsels in distress, but upon a further look I saw they were strong-willed. These girls didn't ask for help, they didn't need Sage to save them from their circumstance. Whatever had happened, they chose to tough it out. These girls don't want pity. What they do want is honesty, because both hate to be deceived, even for the best of intention. At TFP's end, both girls are finding it a very hard time to forgive Sage.

Anyway, I'm not sure if there will be a love triangle. My interpretation is that Sage see Imogen as a fellow downtrodden to be rescued. Amarinda, on the other hand, loved the crown prince, Darius. There were no flirting or kissing in this novel, thus no romance. If anything, I think adding romance would have weakened the plot and distracted Sage's goal to survive.

The Writing

The story was minimal on imagery and world-building, but I saw that as good things. TFP prefer the reader to learn about its world through dialogue and action. There were no info-dumping. If there was, then it would probably be the flashback that occurred in two consecutive chapters towards the end. Two consecutive chapters of a flashback may seem long in saying it as so, but I devoured these chapters quickly. They weren't long to me as a reader who generally dislike flashbacks. Basically, the novel was character-driven. Most of it took place at Conner's castle where the orphans learn how to act as Jaron.

The pacing was steady, but there was always a sense of urgency and danger underlining it. There were no slow moments for me because I was entirely captivated by the novel. The writing was straightforward, no purplish prose or corny lines. Well, maybe a few corny lines.

Twists and Turns

Slightly predictable, YMMV. There were hints found around so I got ecstatic in figuring things out before the story revealed its secrets to me. I didn't expect all the twists and turns, a few I didn't expect them to happen immediately in this novel. TFP hardly left any loose ends; there is no cliffhanger. Nevertheless, I'm dying to read the sequel because TFP ended on such a high note.


I rate TFP 5-stars for it was amazing. TFP is a popcorn fantasy. I had great joy in watching Sage maneuvering and manipulating his way around. The climax in chapter 53 was The Bomb. I kept reading it over and over again.

I recommend it for anyone who enjoys Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series. TFP is what book 4 A Conspiracy of Kings should have been imo.

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