I decided to read this book on a whim. When I bought it, I don’t know what I was expecting; perhaps a simple read to pass the time or to replace The Attolia Series by Megan Whalen Turner. The False Prince was written two years ago by Jennifer A. Nelson for young adults 12-14 years old but its content is much better suited for adults than it initially appears. It questions how a young man Sage is perceived by his peers, nobleman and most importantly by himself. It depicts incredible loss and a conflict between duty to one’s country and to one’s self. Can there be a balance? This is essentially what this book strives to show readers. Though it is intended for a younger audience, I wonder if they could truly understand the purpose of this novel. Even I couldn’t really grasp its lessons and themes until I re-read the book, after its mysteries had been exposed. It is a shame that there aren’t more books like this.
Plot and execution: 5/5
Engaging and perfectly paced, the plot takes place in the kingdom Carthya and is told by an orphan boy named Sage. Though he is only fifteen, he tells his story most likely as an adult thinking about the life changing events of his youth. It opens with his statement, “If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life. Then again I’m not sure I ever had a choice” and immediately shifts the story into the life of an orphan on the run after stealing a roast from a butcher; the difference between a man in careful reflection and a young boy living a chaotic lifestyle. From there, we are introduced to the nobleman Conner who has planned to create the perfect look-alike for the supposedly dead Prince Jaron after the murder of the King, Queen and high prince of Carthya. Sage and two other boys are chosen from different orphanages because they have physical and personality traits akin to the lost prince. They are told that in two weeks one of them would be chosen as a false prince. The other two, in order to leave no loose ends, would be killed.
The plot reminded me a lot of The Thief (1996) in the Attolia series because perspective is key to the mystery and suspense of the story. In both it is told through the eyes of a deceiver who is being used by a higher power for political gain and position. The unruly thief Gen and Sage’s personalities are also very similar because of their stubbornness and tendency to rile people up for their own pleasure and as a means of deceit. However, they are very different from one another through what motivates them and in how they perceive themselves. I liked the internal nature of this story. Behind a disguise of falsehood and lies is a deeper sense of loyalty and duty. The struggle is eminent and the danger lies in how far Sage, the other orphans, and Conner are willing to go for the sake of a lie and personal satisfaction. The underlying question each character has to consider is “How far will I go to ensure my position in life?” whether it is for political gain, survival or a sense of duty.
Characters and Character Development: 5/5
Each of the characters represent a different form of duplicity. Conner, is a master planner willing to do anything to ensure his mission is successful, even sell his soul to the devil. He represents the man whose ambitions rule his reasoning, no matter how evil his actions are. Mott is a man torn between his duty to his master and his genuine kindness and intuitive nature, which blossomed fully when he becomes close to Sage. He is intriguing because his greatness is brought out full force when he finds a better, wiser person to follow, as if he could finally destroy his obligation to a man he knew to be corrupt. Imogen is a young girl who must hide behind her silence to protect herself from Conner’s hatred and those who would corrupt her. Despite her fears, she opened up to Sage and later she becomes an indispensable part of his life. Roden and Tobias are young men given the opportunity to change their circumstances and identity, who will go to any means to survive. Never knowing before what it was like to have access to knowledge, guaranteed meals, and clean living, their lives depend on how well and how willing they are to live a lie. Lastly there is Sage, the most complicated because of his obligation to live a lie against his will and for the sake of his safety.
It is hard to describe this complexity without ruining the magic of the story. In the beginning, we glimpse who Conner sees: an orphan with no prospects and no future off the streets. He is a ruffian through and through but that is who he wants others to see and who he has consequently forced himself to be. Once he is taken into Conner’s custody however, then begins the long struggle between who he has made himself and who he was born to be. It seems inconsequential how other characters perceive him because his greatest judge is himself, a young man abandoned, hardened, and cruelly torn from everything that he loved. He developed into a wiser, stronger person because he willfully chose to accept his fate. The saying “Some are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them” wisely reflects Sage’s final decision to rise up and become someone worth following. This ultimatum wasn’t easily attained and it came at a great cost. Was it worth it? One can only hope. I liked his genuine goodness, sense of duty, and protective nature for those he is close to. At times I wondered how he could show such kindness, despite his obviously rough personality and the terrible things others did to him. No matter his imperfections, he gains strong, faithful companions that stay true to him not because of his standing in society but because he kept his promises and genuinely cared for them.
Writing Style and Overall Impression: 5/5
Nelson’s style isn’t too difficult to follow, nor is it ridiculously dumbed down. It flows well and emits Sage’s feelings without being overbearing or blatantly giving away his secret. I loved this story because it kept me guessing and questioning my reasoning. More than telling the story about a rising prince, it forced me to look inward and wonder who I really am. (Is it determined in how others view me? By my actions? By my looks?) More than anything it shows that people are a product of their environment but above all else they are shaped by their choices and willingness to accept themselves. I recommend this book to anyone, especially fans of The Attolia Series. Read it carefully and introspectively and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Overall Score: 5/5
With tears in my eyes I said, “You have to help me. Please, Mott. I can’t do this.”
“I work for Conner, not you.” Then after a moment he sighed tiredly and added, “After all of this, the master is still considering you. That says a lot. It’s time to stop thinking of yourself and look at yourself as a prince.”
“I will always be an orphan now.” And for the first time in as long as I can remember, I cried. I cried for my lost family, and for every circumstance in my life that had led me here. Mott held my forehead until calm slowly returned to me.
“Forgive me.” I mumbled.
“You’re half-starved and exhausted,” he said. “Forgive me that it was my job to bring this upon you.”