Choose to lie...or choose to die.
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. Sage knows that Conner's motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword's point -- he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage's rivals have their own agendas as well.
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.
So the author has a giveaway going right now on her website, which is what finally got me to actually post a review. I kept thinking I wanted to get one up for The False Prince, but I'm a rather lazy person. If anyone's interested, Ms. Nielsen's giving away signed copies of False Prince, its sequal The Runaway King, AND an ARC of The Shadow Throne, the third and final book in the trilogy which comes out next month. That is at http://www.jennielsen.com/archives/1100.
Now, the review itself. I've actually written two reviews before for False Prince, one on Goodreads and one on a message board I frequent. The Goodreads one is incredibly short and mainly consists of "Eeeh! I love it! I just reread it AGAIN!!" The message board one is really long and sounds incredibly unenthusiastic, which was my attempt at being evenhanded about a book I well and truly adore. So here's a third go at it, and maybe it will land somewhere in the middle.
"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." Thus goes the first line of the entire book, a line that goes deeper than the just started reader could ever guess.
But wait. First, just have a look at the cover picture. Isn't it gorgeous? Even if the book was just horrible, wouldn't you still just love to gaze at that book? I know I would, and I do with my copy all the time. And then you get Runaway King, which is a beautiful emerald green, and - sorry, off topic. Back to Sage.
Oh, wait, I haven't even introduced Sage yet. Well, Sage is the machinery that makes the whole story (actually, the whole series) tick. He's the delightfully unreliable narrator, the eyes through which we get a clear picture of everything - except for the most important thing of all.
And so what is the story? Street rat Sage is plucked off the streets, forced to the estate of rich nobleman Conner along with two (well, three, but only two of them are important) other orphans. There, Conner forces them into a deadly competition. They must learn in just two weeks everything they need to impersonate a prince who's been dead for years, because the royal family is dead and Conner's ready to put forward a replacement ruler.
There's just one eensy, weensy teeny little problem. Sage is stubborn. Like a mule. And he has this thing where he goes out of his way to disobey. Not to mention the fact that he always winds up covered in mud. So how can he make it out of this alive, if he refuses to cooperate? For there can only be one prince, and all three boys know only too well what will happen to those who don't get chosen.
So, the characters. I adore Sage, my friend adores Sage, all the random people on Twitter adore Sage - I haven't met a person yet, no matter how they feel about the rest of the book, who could resist going "Sage is so clever and witty and stubborn! I LOVE him!!" (No joke, that's what they say. I may be paraphrasing a bit, though.) Sage is absolutely one of my favorite characters, possibly all time. He's like Gen from the Queen's Thief series, but less dark and brooding all the time. Which frankly, I like better.
And the other characters? Because, of course, more than one character makes or breaks a book. The other orphans, Roden and Tobias, both have very unique personalities. The kind where you think you've got them sized up the first time you meet them, and then later you realize that there's way more going on in their head, and not all of it nice/mean. Conner, well, he truly put my teeth on edge. You could see he was human, through his flaws, his temper, his fear. But he was also a bully, a man who would do anything he had to in order to get what he wanted. Anything at all. And the depth of that willingness struck deep, because you knew he had all three of the orphans in his absolute control.
And I could go on through every single person who appeared in the book (because from the amount of times I've read it, yes, I've just about got them all memorized), but this review is getting a tad long and I read somewhere you don't want to bore your readers with extraneous length. I'll just say that everyone had a purpose, and frankly I probably shouldn't talk about them anymore because it would be really hard without spoilers (Imogen comes to mind - keep an eye out for her!)
So in summary? One time I saw someone compare it to a mix of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Um, I don't see the connection. There's no magic, no boarding school, no evil government - and I could go on. But what this IS is a great read, with enough violence that I wouldn't give it to anyone under ten (though I know many people who would), and the suspense to keep anyone reading. Bottom line? I love this book to bits, I've read it more times than I can ever count. Read it, cherish it, and pass it on to anyone you know.