YA Review: ‘The False Prince’ by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Two thirds of the way through The False Prince came a reveal that pissed me off.  I had The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)dealt with a whole lot of good and suddenly the nature of this tale was laid apparent.  It took a book I thought was going one way with all kinds of intriguing possibilities and turned it into a tale that really had only one possible outcome.  Five minutes later I decided to forgive everyone involved, take what I was being given, and just finish up a story I had been enjoying quite a bit.  It turned out to be a pretty good choice for me.

Sage is an orphan bought by a noble man who is combing the local orphanages looking for a boy with a specific look.  The royal family is dead and in order to save the land noble Connor is going to make a prince.  And he is willing to do anything, up to and including kill, in order to bring this plan to fruition.  Along with several other boys Sage is going to be taught everything he would need to know to fool a court into believing he is a prince thought to be dead.  

This is a book told through Sage’s perspective, though for a middle school book it takes the bold step of playing with an unreliable narration.  This is Sage’s story, but he is telling it not in ‘real time’ but rather as a story teller might.  He is hiding information from the reader when he wishes and showing either omniscience when not in the room or just making up details, I am not sure.  This gives him the ability to give surprise twists later in the game than the actions actually occurred. Naturally the book with live or die with his narration and it worked pretty well; obviously he was going to be hiding something and certainly he is a bit clever for his age, but he is engaging kind of a loveable little imp.

This is a slow moving book; mostly dealing with the trials the young lads are put through to cram a lot of info into their heads while competing with each other to be the best.  Until the end most of the excitement comes from the various ways Sage spends trying to defy Connor along the way.  He is a poor man’s Locke Lamora for those who get the reference, a whole lot of failed plans are actually part of his larger one (though he is not perfect, and some mistakes cost him dearly).  Sure he is a bit too competent for a fourteen year old (who is on his own by age ten) but I will just put that down to the middle grade billing of the book, and it isn’t so over the top as to completely defy credibility.

Once the aforementioned reveal takes place the pace picks up considerably.  Suddenly we have action, betrayal, and a moment of victory or two.  It was a strong and enjoyable conclusion, if a bit predictable by that point.  Even the late mini-twists were no surprise, but satisfying never less.

A very enjoyable little read.  If you are quicker to me in realizing what is behind the big reveal it is still a nice tale with enough ‘how did that happen’ moments to be worth reading.  It isn’t that book that is going to convert me to middle grade books, but it is one that will keep me from automatically writing them off.  Recommended to someone looking for a palette cleanser and just want a quick little romp with a rapscallion showing up his betters.  If you’re good at spotting twists (which I often am, so how did I miss this one?) then it still has more depth than I expected within its politics and alliances, so I still recommend it.  In fact I am going to give it a star rating, and then expand a bit more.

4 Stars

But really where this book absolutely shined was in audio.  I am only three audio books in but this one blew the others away, and I enjoyed the narrator of both of those.  But Charlie McWade was simply awesome.  Each character has a subtle difference in voice, and even his female voices shined by avoided over the top changes in pitch.  He bounced through the transitions in conversations with ease, rarely losing his character’s voice.  Well-paced, a pleasing speaking voice, and good timing when wit was needed.  He took a pretty good book and made it into a book I recommend to everyone; especially if they have an eight hour road trip coming up.  The best narrator I have heard so far by quite a long way. Now I need to get something by the much recommended Simon Vance to see how they stack up.


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