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.
Last year, The False Prince and The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, were two middle grade books that got a ton of buzz but I didn't get around to reading. So when The Runaway King hit my mailbox a couple of weeks ago I decided it was a sign I should start rectifying these reading shortcomings.
To be honest I couldn't even remember what The False Prince was supposed to be about, so it was fun to sink my teeth into with only buzz to go on. I wasn't disappointed; fast paced, clever, full of twists and turns I didn't see coming, Nielsen has created a great premise I can't wait to read more of. Even more enjoyably, she's filled the story with a host of treacherous characters you're never sure if you love or hate.
Complexity is one of the number one things I look for in a middle grade book. It sounds high-handed, and obviously it's not a universal sign of a good book, but it is so easy, and sadly, common to talk down to children that I think it's what sorts the OK MG books from the fantastic MG books. Nielsen hits the perfect level of complexity with The False Prince by being deceptively sly with it. On a topical level things are fairly straight forward, and although Sage is extremely clever, she uses the other orphans as her means of keeping her readers up to speed with him. BUT, then she throws these well built curve balls at the reader, that has you Ah! HA!-ing and back tracking to see how she set it up.
All in all a terrific MG fantasy, one which sets up what's sure to be a nail-biting trilogy. Onwards to The Runaway King!
The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Published by Scholastic, April 2012
Want to meet Jennifer A. Nielsen? Then make sure to check out one of her tour stops for The Runaway King. I'll be at the Toronto one on April 18th! Hope to see you there.