Book Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen

This is a series I’d heard about off and on. So, when I saw it available at the local virtual library I thought, “what the hey, let’s give it a shot.” It’s got royalty, subterfuge, and some snarky characters, so there’s a lot of potential here.

And … it’s a genderbent Anastasia.

The Story

I’m not kidding. The story itself is a close play-by-play of the 1997 Don Bluth animated adaptation of Anastasia. You know, the one with Meg Ryan, John Cusack, and Kelsey Grammer? The one with the lovely hit song, “Journey to the Past”? Yeah, that one.

Except with boys.

Sage is a clever orphan who is constantly making trouble. He’s got a good heart though, most of the trouble he gets in helps to get food for other unfortunates like himself. He and three other boys like him are plucked from their orphanages by one of the Regents of Carthya, Sir Bevin Connor, with the goal of making them into Prince Jaron, who went missing after a pirate attack four years earlier.

We spend the majority of the book watching Sage’s antics as Connor tries to teach him how to be a prince only for Sage to outsmart him at every turn. The other boys take these teachings seriously which puts Sage into a tricky position. He suspects that Connor will kill off whoever isn’t chosen, as he already killed one boy who wanted no part of the plan after it was revealed.

Behind the scenes and out of the view of the reader, Sage is ensuring that everything is in order for him to become Prince Jaron. If you’re familiar with the Anastasia story, you know where this is going. We come to a dramatic show down where everyone gets what they deserve, somewhat.

My Review

I wanted to like this book. There were lots of elements in it that were came close to being good, but fell just shy, including the main character. It also could have been that the book is mostly written in first person, which is a point of view that I find I can’t enjoy as much because it limits what the story can show the reader.

And, I figured out the majority of the plot in the first chapter so nothing really came as a surprise or a stunning big reveal. That is probably more me than most readers (ask the hubby, I’m delightful to watch TV with. Poor plot twists never knew what hit them).

Don’t get me wrong, I was entertained by the book. There was lots of swash-swash-buckle-buckle to keep things interesting, and Sage kept getting his butt handed to him which required people to tend to his various hurts, which I always appreciate. Beyond that, the writing was solid but not breathtaking, the plot interesting but predictable, and the characters rounded but not vibrant.

Recommendations

This book is perfect for younger boys trying to find stories where they can identify themselves in the characters. There’s literally a character for each type of boy, there’s the jock, the nerd, and the clever one who all have both good and bad traits to be likable. The prose is very approachable and the plot straightforward. The recommended reading age is 8-12, which looking back on my earlier remarks makes so much sense. As such, it’s super clean with appropriate levels of anger and violence and some mentions of blood but nothing too graphic.

I give The False Prince 3/5 stars, a solid entertaining read that I really wanted to be surprised by, and wasn’t.


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