The False Prince, Jennifer Nielsen


 “Valuable lessons were code words for pain that no one apologised for”

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.

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. 



* * *
3 / 5

This is the kind of book I would have loved when I was 10 – a snarky young boy who is good at sneaking around, a man with suspicious motives, and a shot for a poor orphaned boy to become a prince. In fact, I was so busy indulging my inner ten-year-old self, that it was easy to overlook the fact that the entire premise of the book, and many of the little details, was utterly absurd. Just entirely, laughably implausible.


‘If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life”



We have Sage, fourteen years old and plucked from an orphanage by Lord Conner to join three other similarly blond and bony looking boys. One of them is sick and gets killed off pretty quickly as a warning to the other three candidates; candidates for what, you ask? The kingdom is in turmoil, the king, queen, and eldest son all murdered, and the lords are poised to jockey to become King; Conner’s plan is to select one young boy to pose as the lost younger son, Prince Jaron, and take control of the throne through that child. Never mind the fact that, you know, no fourteen year old boy would be able to pull off that kind of con for years, impersonating someone he never met to a bunch of people who knew that boy for years. But let us suspend our disbelief.

So we have Sage and Tobias, a more learned orphan who can read, and Roden, who likes hitting things (both boys are a little devoid of personality depth), jockeying to become Conner’s favourite. They’re pretty sure if they don’t get picked they’ll be murdered in their beds, which is something you’d probably find quite motivating.  Instead, Sage decides that he doesn’t really much fancy being a princebut never really does anything about this decision? He never tries to escape and is just obstinate until he changes his mind about the whole affair.

“Just because it’s possible, does not mean that it is wise”


Reading this as an adult, my main source of enjoyment came from the sort of fuzzy feeling that this book encapsulated the typical “children’s fantasy book” experience, like it was a half-remembered conglomeration of all my childhood favourites. Even if the plot doesn’t make much sense (Lord Conner is trying to hide these kids, so that if one becomes the prince they won’t be recognised, but insists on having them act as servants for an important royal guest – why??), Sage is a likeable character, and though the twist near the end didn’t really surprise me, it did cast the previous events of the book in a new light, adding a fresh perspective.

Sure, The False Prince isn’t ground breaking or the best book of its kind (for kids, I recommend The Ranger’s Apprentice by Will Flanagan, for a young male lead fantasy novel), but it’s fun! It was so ridiculous I got caught up in it.

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