Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

I actually convinced my mock Newbery group to read this book, although for some reason I feel sheepish about it.  I think the book was just too much fun and possibly a little derivative.  But it's my favorite children's book of this year.

It begins with the theft of a large piece of meat. 
Sage, street urchin and conman extraordinaire, is tearing through the streets of a quasi-medieval market with a side of beef when he runs right into a man who has decided to buy him from the orphanage.  From that moment forward, the action rarely stops.  Conner, the man who buys Sage, has also procured a number of other orphan boys.  His plan for them constitutes nothing less than treason and may cost them their lives!

Sorry, for a second there, I forgot that I was writing a review and not a blurb.

But this novel really is that swashbuckling.  It's not hard to guess where the plot is going, especially if you grew up watching movies like The Prisoner of Zenda.  But that doesn't make it any less satisfying.  And yes, I've read a lot of middle grade novels with sides of beef and swords and tapestries and drawbridges and secret passages, but I'm still thrilled when I read a really good one.

Like Three Times Lucky, this novel has a killer narrator.  Sage is a smart aleck who's often a few steps ahead of his enemies but who also makes stupid, stubborn choices that set him back.  He's tantalizingly unreliable--never lying but often leaving out key details--and he's the master of Spider-man-like banter.  I think one of the reasons I was on the edge of my seat, even though I thought I knew where the overarching story was going, was because the author kept letting Sage talk himself into corners.

Also, while this isn't a gory book, the threat of violence is real.  The author lets you know right away that Conner's willing to kill people who get in his way.  Not that he does it personally.  Oh no.  He has Mott and Roden (a.k.a. good cop and bad cop) to do his dirty work.  So he's just the one giving orders and they're just the ones taking orders.  No one's really responsible.  I think this is a very realistic portrayal of how bad things are carried out. 

In conclusion, this is not the most original book in the history of books, but when I compare it to other books published this year, it really does rise to the top.  So I'm going to stop apologizing for putting it on my Newbery shortlist and just keep talking about its well executed plot and devilish narrative voice.


  1. I knew I could count on you! Do you also agree that Mott is still a bad guy, or do you think he redeemed himself?