by Jennifer A. Nielsen
First sentence: “If I had to do it all over again, I would not have chosen this life.”
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Sage is a 15-year-old orphan in a small Carthyan city. He’s got a reputation for mischievousness, not to mention pickpocketing and general thievery, but generally he tries to fly under the radar.
That is until a minor noble, Bevin Conner, plucks him (along with three other boys) out of the mire and decides that one of them will be the one to put his Grand Plan in motion.
What is that Grand Plan, you say? Well, it turns out that someone has murdered the entire royal family, except for the prince — Jaron — who was killed by pirates four years before. What Conner wants to do is train these boys up and the put one of them on the throne as the False Prince: a puppet to fool the regency just long enough for Conner to be named the grand regent, and essentially take over.
I felt like doing that a lot while reading the book. It needed a good evil laugh to accompany all of Conner’s posturing. And he postured a LOT. Not that I didn’t enjoy the book well enough; there was much that I found enjoyable. Sage was a good thief/rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold character, one who was both winning and interesting. The plot was an interesting idea, rife with politics, murder, backstabbing, and a wee bit of romance (but not enough to turn off the romance-shy boys.)
The problem is that it’s all been done before, and better. See, it’s a similar plot to Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, who did it all richer, grander, and, well, better. Sage is no Gen, and Nielsen doesn’t handle the twists and turns the plot demands nearly as elegantly as Turner does. That said, I think this will be an issue for only MWT fans, because on the surface False Prince is a lot of fun. There’s enough adventure, and the twist really is delightful (if you don’t see it coming), and there’s some nice retribution in the end. In addition, Nielsen wraps up this story quite well, while leaving things open for the sure-to-come sequels. (Which is always the best way to do a series, in my humble opinion.)
Bottom line: if you haven’t read The Thief (or didn’t like it all that much — I’m thinking of C here; she tried and just didn’t like it), then this one will be new and surprising and exciting.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)