Book Description from Goodreads:

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point—he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen is the first book in the Ascendance trilogy and is followed by The Runaway King and The Shadow Throne. It’s the story of a fourteen-year-old boy, Sage, who is purchased from an orphanage by Conner, a nobleman—even after the owner tries to dissuade him due to Sage’s reputation as a thief and a liar.

Deceitfulness is actually a point in Sage’s favor, given Conner’s plans for him and the three other orphans he recently acquired: he intends for one of them to impersonate Prince Jaron, who has been presumed dead since pirates attacked his ship a few years ago. Though most of the country does not yet realize it, the entire royal family was recently murdered, leaving them without a monarch—unless the king’s missing son happened to return to claim the throne.

All the boys were chosen due to some resemblance to the prince, but Sage faces the biggest obstacles of all to being selected as the false prince: not only is he the boy who resembles Jaron the least physically, but he’s also the least desirable candidate due to the same exact intractable nature that made him a worthy contender in the first place. The young prince was known to be a confident, quick-thinking troublemaker, and though Sage is neither educated nor strong like Jaron would be, he and the prince do share similar personalities.

Sage has no desire to be Conner’s prince, but after witnessing the murder of the one boy who accepts Conner’s invitation to leave, it’s clear that he must be chosen as the false prince—or he’ll be killed to protect Conner’s secret. But what Conner doesn’t yet realize is that Sage is not to be underestimated…

The False Prince is an entertaining, readable book that moves at a decent pace. It’s fantasy in that it’s set in a made-up world, but it does not feature magic or delve deeply enough into that world for it to seem all that different from past Earth with different place names. The main focus is the plot and the character of Sage, an unreliable narrator who keeps things interesting—for both the other characters and the reader!

The prose is simple and straightforward, though it does include some amusing dialogue and a narrative voice with some personality. Despite some twists, the story follows a predictable path and lacks the depth or subtlety to make it unforgettable to me personally, but I did find it to be both enjoyable and satisfying (admittedly, I am partial to rogue-like characters who tend to be steps ahead of everyone else like Sage, as well as this type of story in general even if the major twist was expected). Those criticisms are mainly a matter of my own preferences, though, since more of the focus seemed to be on telling an engaging story than a complex one. The author did a wonderful job of keeping the book fun, and I suspect I would have loved it if I’d read the book as a preteen or young teen, before I’d read as many books as I have now or come across similar stories.

Even if it didn’t surprise me or stand out as particularly unique, I found The False Prince to be a compelling, well-orchestrated tale centered on a deceptive character with a mischievous streak. I’m not sure if I’ll read the next book since this one felt complete and I don’t think it would be possible to reproduce what I liked about it in a sequel, but I am glad I read The False Prince even if it didn’t wow me.

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.