Thursday, June 14, 2012

Orphans, Princes, and Plots, Oh My!

Writing my last post on teen summer reading really got in the mood for a nice Young Adult fantasy novel.  Sadly my initial pick was something of a downer, especially since the author shares my hometown (Boo on poorly written teen romance).  Then, my coworker (and Young Adult librarian, go figure), who I had hooked on The Thief series, handed me The False Prince and told me to give it a try.  It was awesome.

The Basics
Nielsen, Jennifer. The False Prince. New York: Scholastic, P., 2012. Print.

Born and raised in Utah, Jennifer Nielsen began writing as early as elementary school. She started out writing adult romantic suspense (I'm sure not in elementary school), before mobing on to fantasy novels for juvenile and young adult readers. She lives with her husband, three children, a dog, and a love of chocolate.

The False Prince is the first novel in Nielsen's new Ascendence Trilogy. Sage, an orphan and thief, is one of four boys selected by a nobleman to participate in a plot to install a false prince on the throne of medieval Carthya.  Sage must compete w/ the other orphans, and he's clearly competing for more than a crown, since the losing boys likely won't survive not being selected.  Sage stands a pretty good chance since he's clever, crafty, and a whole lot more than he seems.

The Book
One of the best aspects of The False Prince is that the book is incredibly well written. Nielsen offers up some high quality prose that is sure to please a wide audience.  It's not to advanced for her target teen readership, but it's sophisticated enough to engage and delight adult readers as well.  Along with the polished writing, we find a fast-paced and captivating plot that, while not entirely unpredictable, is highly interesting and extremely well done.  I can't say too much more without giving away all the good parts. Suffice it to say that I loved every second of the 342 pages that I breezed through in one evening (okay and very early morning).

Nielsen also provides readers with some great characters.  Until you get close to the end, you really won't be sure who to dislike and who not to worry about, which is nicely representative of the situation the protagonist finds himself in.  We have the conniving nobleman Conner, who is despicable but also frighteningly convincing in his manipulations.  Then we have the orphans themselves, who cover a range of personality traits: sickly, sniveling, brown-nosing, plotting, jerky, arrogant, in need of protection, sympathetic, clever, crafty, etc.  Given the short time period of the book (about 2 weeks) and the close quarters setting in which most of it takes place, the characters have to vivid to hold reader's attention. Nielsen more than succeeds at this.

The best part of the novel for me hands down was the level of suspense that Nielsen creates and maintains.  I could not stop turning the pages.  The novel is full of politics and twists, and it doesn't shy away from the occasional truly gritty scene.  A real, almost tangible sense of danger, importance, and urgency pervades the book, keeping both the characters and the readers on their toes.  Nielsen offers just enough hints and plotting to keep you guessing without allowing you to be absolutely sure of the resolution until its right up on you.  Perfect.

I'm dreadfully sick of the YA trilogy format that seems to pervade the age group regardless of whether the story deserves to be that lengthy. But this book made me love it again. I cannot wait for the second and third novels.

  • Visit the author's website for some nifty information and to check out her other series geared toward middle graders.  While you're there, also visit her section offering tips for writers
  • Nielsen also has a blog!
  • Check out The False Prince page over at the publisher's website, which offers a description and an excerpt. 

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