Review: The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen


It’s morning, and I’m bleary eyed.  The kids and I are reading “The False Prince”, by Jennifer A. Nielsen – the first book in The Ascendance Trilogy.  Except, I started reading ahead. And then, I couldn’t put it down…

My daughter chose The False Prince at the library – she read the inside cover and said “Mom! This one sounds interesting!”  I had to agree.

“It’s not easy to be one type of person when you’ve worked so hard to be a very different type of person.”

In a kingdom far, far away, there is a terrible secret.  The entire ruling family – king, queen, and crown prince – have been murdered.  The country is on the verge of civil war, as the regents of the king’s court jockey to take charge of the kingdom.  In the chaos that will inevitably follow, the country will surely be invaded by enemy countries on its border.

Conner, a low ranking nobleman of the king’s court, has a plan. If he can find the long-lost Prince, the country will surely unite behind the rightful heir to the throne.  But, while Conner says his goal is to save the country, it soon becomes apparent he is really looking for a puppet ruler – so he, himself, can run the kingdom.

Conner scours the country’s orphanages for 4 boys that resemble the 4-year-lost Prince in looks and age.  There’s sickly Latamer, educated and impressionable Tobias, strong sword fighter but-not-too-bright Roden, and the difficult, cocky, street-smart Sage.

Conner has 2 weeks to find a boy, and turn him into a “gentleman” (sort of My Fair Lady-ish).  Then, the boy will be presented to the King’s court, he will convince the regents he is the missing Prince, then he will be crowned King. And of course, Conner will be there to “advise” him.

The 4 boys he has purchased from the orphanages are told of the plan. Conner will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. And I mean – nothing. He will lie, cheat, steal, murder, and sell his soul to the devil.

The boys are to compete against each other – only 1 will become Conner’s Prince. Only 1 will get to live; the un-chosen are considered a liability, and will be disposed of.

A dangerous, terrible, treasonous plan – yet each of the orphan boys is determined that he will be the 1 to survive and win this deadly contest.  They really have no choice.

But, orphans fight to survive every day, in terrible living conditions, ragged clothes, and starving. Always starving. They lie, cheat, steal, fight, and run to survive.

The boys are taken to Conner’s luxurious country palace. With their lives in the balance, they do whatever is necessary to train and to get Conner to choose them as his “Prince”.

Hints and premonitions are sprinkled everywhere. And soon, it becomes apparent that while Tobias is the smartest one, and Roden is the strongest one, Sage is the cleverest – and the one most likely to be able to successfully convince the regents.

But, while Sage has no desire to be a false prince, he is determined to stay alive.

The book unfolds slowly, like a delicious dessert.

Who are these boys? Why are they orphans?  What lengths will they go to, to become the false Prince?

Who killed the royal family?  And why?

Was the true Prince, Johan, killed by pirates 4 years ago?  His body was never found.   Could he be alive?

Is it even possible that an orphan could be trained to be a gentleman in 2 weeks?

Will they be able to convince the regents? Will the impossible, crazy plan work?

Is Conner out to save his country? Or is he power hungry? Or crazy? Or some real-life mixture of all 3?

Deceit, treachery, and betrayal are everywhere.  Back stabbings occur (literally).  Alliances are formed. And broken.  Beatings are regular.  And always – lies, lies, and more lies.

All this against a backdrop of a time long, long ago, with Kings and kingdoms, lords and indentured servants, sword fighting and jewels.

About two thirds of the way into the book, a breathtaking secret is revealed.  And everything you thought you knew?  Well, forgeddaboutit.

The False Prince is the adventure of a lifetime.   The rags-to-riches possible future for the orphans – they will be King, or they will be dead.

It’s exciting.  And twisty-turny.

You feel for the orphan boys – for their struggle to balance doing the morally right thing vs. their will to survive.  It’s a terrible choice.

If they are chosen to be Conner’s Prince,they will be alive, but who will they be, really? A beaten down version of themselves. A lying puppet ruler. But they will be alive, and live a life of luxury, never wanting for any food or comfort.  Will they be able to live with themselves and their choices?

I wasn’t able to put it down.  So, even though I knew I had to get the kids up at 6 a.m., and get going to school/work, it was after 2 a.m. before I turned the last page.

But, it was worth it.

And now? Knowing what I know – I can’t wait to read it again…

And, I’ve got to find book 2 – The Runaway King.

Rated: 10/10. A great book to read aloud, leisurely, with your kids. Great for middle school and up.

Did you read it? What did you think?


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