Sunday, 18 November 2012

review: The False Prince

by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, April 1 2012
middle-grade fantasy
received from publisher (thank you!)

Sage has been plucked out of his orphanage and thrown into a noble named Conner's treacherous plan: he and three other orphans will fight for the chance to impersonate the long-lost Prince Jaron. Death is guaranteed for the boys who aren't picked. Sage knows he must win, for reasons hidden by layers of lies which will rock the land of Carthya when revealed.
The cover:

Simple but elegant: the rich, textured cobalt-teal background offsets the understated title font perfectly. As well, the subtle significance of the broken crown fits the quiet atmosphere of the cover.

The book:

The False Prince had tonnes of potential. Political intrigue, when properly wielded, can be spun out like spider silk, turning the plot into a mire of delicious deceit. (See Matthew J. Kirby's Icefall for a fabulous example.) However, here we're fed the political background in two or three chunks, a chapter at a time, along with the worldbuilding. It's offputting and also makes the twist quite a bit easier to predict.

Sage is a likeable protagonist. His prickly-meets-sassy attitude results in more than a few humourous exchanges and his thieving-related abilities are thoroughly impressive. However, he lacks constancy in his actions, as do all the characters, in fact. On one page, he'll be strong and firm; on another, he'll decide to go along with the plan, because there doesn't seem to be an easier option.

This inconstant trait in Conner, our leading evil man, makes for a rather less evil antagonist. He shows a variety of emotions -- unfeelingness, passion, vulnerability -- but in the end it's difficult to make heads or tails of how we're supposed to view him as a character.

The pace moves at a good clip, but nothing truly happens in the middle; the novel's action all hinges on the end result. In addition, the dialogue often turns into info-dumps, and there's a marked lack of fluidity in the storytelling. With an uneven gender balance in the characters (Imogen is the only female character, and the only interesting one besides Sage), this middle-grade fantasy is a disappointment for me.

Rating: 2.3 out of 5