*Disclaimer: This review includes major spoilers. And, of course, you should take my opinions with a grain of salt. I don’t pretend to be the end all, be all for YA books. This is just what I thought of the book.
The first book I picked off my to-read pile was a solid 7.
This next one would have been a 6 or a 7…but now I can’t give it anything above a 5.5. And that’s being generous. I’ll tell you why…
I recently read “The False Prince” by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I recognized the title off an old to-read list.
I was surprised when I first opened it up. I wouldn’t really call “The False Prince” a YA book. It’s really a “middle” book, meaning I would have loved reading it in middle school. You know what I’m talking about: shorter sentences, simple vocabulary, a smaller world, and short chapters. (2-3 of these chapters could actually fit within one of the chapters in one of my normal level books.)
After I got over this initial shock, it was actually a refreshing change. I’m not going to apologize for reading and (mostly) enjoying a “middle” level book. It’s a rather simple and unimposing book, but the story is still interesting.
Here’s the rundown (**I can’t make my point without spoilers, so here’s your second warning!):
“The False Prince” is the story of orphan Sage who, along with a group of other orphaned boys, is “bought” by a noble man named Conner. Conner trains them to be gentlemen, promising that, by the time he’s done with them, they will be able to pass for the missing Prince himself. (Ominous music plays)
The other boys seem eager to go along with Conner’s plan to impersonate the royal heir to the throne. Sage is the only one who refuses to be used by Conner and genuinely doesn’t want the crown. He is an ornery, rebellious, sarcastic, untrusting and untrustworthy little thief, and it seems like he might be keeping some secrets from Conner.
Sage intrigued me from the beginning. He seemed to be the epitome of a false hero. I enjoyed reading about him just to see what other tricks he had up his sleeve. I had a few inklings that he was keeping some part of his past a secret from everyone else, but I was content to watch his story unfold slowly as I got a sense of who he was…The author had other ideas.
I was breathing in Sage’s story, fully prepared to rush through the last half of the book and run out to find the sequel, when I got to chapter 42.
Chapters 42-43 killed the book for me.
Nielsen did something that just made me want to cry. He broke what I believe to be a major rule. He was on a roll, the story was heading up the arc towards the climax, Conner and Sage were about the set off for the palace, and then Nielsen paused for backstory. He just paused everything to give away the entire tale of what happened to the prince, and it wasn’t even important at the time.
If you have some complicated backstory for a character, you should really include a prologue or dole it out in suspenseful and informative chunks. Make the telling of the backstory crucial to the plot. Don’t pause and leave the characters hanging at a critical moment to tell us someone’s backstory.
I mean, I had already guessed that Sage wasn’t who he claimed to be, but you don’t give your readers that little to go on and then just pause everything right before the climax to explain every little detail of what really happened to the protagonist before the book even began.
That’s something I would have expected in a detective novel. Everyone knows that the detective comes out at the 2nd of the story and explains, in painstaking detail, how the butler killed Mrs. Norris in the library with a crowbar. How? Because Sherlock Holmes tracked his laundry down with a piece of lint and used the key left in one of the coats that, judging by the type and extent of rust, led him to a safe buried in the bottom of the lake. But why? Because 10 years ago, Mrs. Norris told her niece to refuse the butler’s advances and he never got over the affront. And here is the secret diary to prove it!
That’s what you’d expect right? That Sherlock would make everything come together? You might have started picking up the pieces yourself, but you would never have gotten the whole picture if he didn’t tell you every little thing that started the domino effect that led to this murder. That’s the climax of virtually every detective novel.
Well this isn’t a detective novel! I didn’t need all of that, and I didn’t want it. You might be thinking, Well that doesn’t sound so bad. Trust me, do not read this book unless you want to be disappointed.
The one good thing I can say at this point is that at least Nielsen didn’t try to go for a Disney Anastasia twist: the prince was running and he hit his head and forgot everything, but now he has suddenly regained his memory! I would have been delighted at the originality of this author’s idea, if he had presented it correctly. This was just lazy writing.
Maybe I’m overestimating younger readers, but even they could have been able to figure it out if given the chance.
I guess the only way to describe my feelings towards this book and author is that I feel betrayed. You won’t understand if you don’t love books. If you do, I urge you to be careful when picking up one of Nielsen’s books. I wouldn’t want to come across the same surprise in another one of his books.
Confession, I stared at “The False Prince” for a few days after reading those chapters, but I did eventually pick it back up. I wanted to see how Sage’s story ended. Nielsen could have made this a stand alone novel. The climax was suspenseful. The ending was strong. The final twists and turns were wonderful. And, most important, the little facets and surprises that surrounded each of the well-rounded characters were still polished to a shine.
I could have really liked this book. I might have even put it on my shelf, if I didn’t feel so betrayed.
Okay, rant over. Have anyone else read this book or anything else by Nielsen? What did you think?
Have you ever been disappointed be a book you read?