Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Review: The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Series: The Ascendants Trilogy #1
Genre: Fantasy
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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.

So predictable it hurts. (Warning: This is a very subjective review. What doesn't work for me (at all) might work for some people.)

Besides the fact that the resolution was a forgone conclusion, I didn't like any of the characters enough to say 'it's the journey, not the destination'. (Although I did kind of like Tobias. He was…interesting. And not the sort that I wanted to strangle. Unlike the main boy.)

This book was told in first person perspective - except for a couple, very strange chapters that were told in third person. It was really jarring and, unfortunately, only served to show me how much better the book would have been if I hadn't been stuck in Sage's head. This book has one of the worst examples of unreliable narrator I've seen since that Agatha Christie book that I hated because of this.

And, what's worse, this was a case of keeping things from the readers that isn't even plot relevant. It's going to be ignored, not even mentioned until a third party discovers it or the brat's - I mean - Sage's hand is forced. One of the 'secret's' that the boy keeps is the fact that he's been slowly gathering a hoard of items from around the house and hiding them near his bed.

Well, this is conveniently not mentioned at all until he's found out. And, did I mention that we never leave this boy's head? (Except for the aforementioned trio of chapters, of course.) This can't even be passed off as a case of 'he did it when we weren't there'. Or even 'this is told in diary form so the main character can edit what happened'. Nope, this is just good old fashioned 'I won't tell you'.

I dislike unreliable narrator's - partially because it's painfully easy to see when we aren't getting the whole story. Sure, the thefts took me by surprise, but it was more of a 'and when, exactly, did you do this?' surprise and not the good kind.

Keeping secrets from the readers and having big reveals are great - but it only works if you play fair. You can't leave out whole chunks of what happened and then later be all 'oh, by the way'. We're inside the character's head in the most intimate point of view possible. You can't have him steal a knife and forget to mention it until he uses it. That smacks of sloppy writing to me. (Either because the secret's couldn't be kept any other way, or because the writer wrote themselves into a corner and to go all 'ghost in the machine' to fix it.)

I will admit, the story improves slightly towards the end. The writing seemed less…annoying and Sage was…less needing to be strangled by me. But by then, I already knew what as coming and felt cheated at the way the 'big reveal' was kept from us. It wasn't organic and felt really forced just so we could have a 'twist'.

"The enemies at our borders will feel tricked."

The readers in your pages will feel tricked.

(Actually, some of us would, if we didn't know the truth from page 30 and spent the rest of the time wondering why we were being kept in forced, fake darkness. And gradually getting more and more put out with the book.)