Tuesday, May 22, 2012
The False Prince (audiobook) by Jennifer Nielsen
Sage is being mowed down the street by a cleaver-chasing angry butcher who wants his stolen roast back. The roast is slippery and Sage sarcastically thinks he'll make sure he wraps the roast before stealing it. When the butcher chucks the cleaver at Sage like a tomahawk, Sage can't help admire the "accuracy" of the toss. Thus sets into motion a plot that never lets up.
Sage is an orphan. He's hungry and good at stealing. He gets caught with the stolen roast and sold to a man named Conner who has collected four orphan boys with the intent of making one of them poise as a false prince. Conner knows that the royal family was murdered (the public doesn't know yet) and a regent will take the throne. To stop this, Conner wants an orphan boy to masquerade as the prince who went missing four years ago. He will choose the best orphan boy at the end of two weeks. At this point I'm thinking "Oh, another Liza Doolittle." Wrong. Liza was the part of a bet between two gentlemen. There are no gentlemen here - only the ruthless Conner who justifies murder if it serves his kingdom. When one orphan is murdered for not participating the other boys know they have no choice but to go along with the plan. They also know that the ones not chosen will be killed because the secret is too great. Conner makes it clear (as well as Sage) that whichever boy is placed on the throne Conner will own and manipulate. This isn't just any ordinary contest, it's a contest to the death.
Like the book, Hunger Games, this one has children in a competition where only one person can win and the losers die. The psychology of dealing with eliminating each other or working together yo-yo's back and forth causing great tension and fast pacing. It also adds suspense similar to mystery novels with emotional responses of anxiety, excitement, and fear as readers live through the viewpoint of the main character, Sage. The delicious plot twists have many surprises and the duplicity of the characters make it hard to determine if they are fighting for the good guys or bad guys. Sage's thievery reminded me of the Attolia series, by Megan Whalen Turner, where the main character is a thief in the kingdom.
Nielsen creates a strong voice in Sage. He struggles with the mindless murder of one of the orphans. He fights to not be manipulated by those around him and yearns for family reflecting on the good and bad. He is passionate about remaining true to himself and struggles internally as to whether or not he will embrace being a prince or not. He also tries to do the right thing even at the risk of his life.
The story has violence with killing, torture, and beatings. Sage is always getting hurt in some way or another. A servant girl is being physically and verbally abused. There is a little romance but nothing happens. Sage appears interested in Imogen but the false prince is betrothed to Amarinda and this makes for a love triangle. The audiobook is quite good with the actor changing voices. One character sounds like Clint Eastwood and I couldn't help but laugh. So let the checkered flags wave as you race through this book, it is truly a winner
5 out of 5 Smileys