By Jennifer A Nielsen
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 978 1 407133 05 8
Civil unrest is spreading throughout the kingdom of Carthya, and the threat of war is growing daily. The king and queen and their heir have been murdered, but the nobles and knights, who are vying to take over the throne, are keeping news of this terrible event from the people.
No one is to be trusted in the royal court in The False Prince. Political struggles threaten to bring revolution and bloodshed to the kingdom; but wealthy aristocrat Lord Connor has devised a plot to beat all his political rivals to the ultimate position of power. For his plan to work, he needs an unlikely ally: he heads to an orphanage in the city of Carchar and kidnaps one of the inmates, a 14-year-old boy named Sage.
In fact, Sage is one of four boys who are kidnapped and taken to Connor's secluded house in the middle of nowhere - four boys who look remarkably similar. Here the puzzled orphans are put through a rigorous programme of education and combat training. Connor's servants are as tight-lipped as their master about what is going on. The boys can only wonder and wait.
The False Prince is a cleverly plotted thriller that keeps readers on their toes right until the final pages. The story is the thing here, and Jennifer Nielsen is very good at building up suspense and teasing the reader with clever cliffhangers.
Connor's plot is fiendishly brilliant. The only person with a legitimate claim to the throne is the King's second son, Prince Jaron, who is assumed dead, murdered by pirates three years ago. Connor's plan is to coach four boys to step into the dead prince's shoes. But only one boy will be chosen, and the other three disposed of. There can be only one false prince.
Much of the novel is taken up with the training of the four teens, and as the boys realise how they fit into Lord Connor's scheme, rivalries and jealousies rear their ugly heads. Will Sage and the other three orphans turn against each other as a favourite emerges in the deadly selection progress?
Astute readers will easily work out who is going to become the false prince, and may even guess the twist that comes at the end of the yarn, but Nielsen doesn't allow this possibility to slow down the plot or interrupt the action. Full of intrigue, machinations and surprises, this book will keep readers involved until the exciting end.
Power struggles of all sizes have seldom been as entertaining as they are in this fast-moving slice of mystery and adventure.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com