I am conflicted about The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen. I thoroughly enjoyed Nielsen’s Underworld Chronicles trilogy and was looking forward to finally having a chance to read the first in her new series. I was put off almost immediately by the graphic nature of some of the violence. I actually listened to the book on audio and had to turn it off because my 9 and 11-year-old were in the car and I felt the content of a child being tortured in a dungeon cell was inappropriate for them. I considered discontinuing the book at that point myself since I do not enjoy reading descriptions of animals or children being tortured, hurt or killed–and I typically do not care for books which include these things. I am glad that I continued with the book because, although that was not the only depiction of violence I did not deem appropriate for juvenile literature, there is much in the main plot of the story that DID pique my interest.
The story seems to be set in a medieval village where the royal family has been murdered. Those who are aware of the murders are trying to keep it a secret until a new king can be determined. There is the very real fear of civil war and of Carthia’s enemies seeing an opportunity to conquer a land without a strong, established leader.
Enter the nobleman, Conner, who collects several boys from local orphanages who bear resemblances to a second royal son, believed lost at sea four years previously. Bringing the boys to his home in secret, Conner intends, after training, to choose one of the boys to pose as the lost prince. This boy will ascend the throne and Conner’s place in the elite nobility will be assured.
Nielsen does an excellent job of weaving mystery, suspicion, secrets and deceit into all aspects of the tale. The plot is masterful. My only reservations were: (1) the unnecessary overly graphic nature of some of the violence inflicted on individuals in the story–particularly children; and (2) there are at least three places where the story seems to drag, getting bogged down in details that are neither terribly interesting, nor move the story forward. Nielsen’s research into accurate aspects of the time in which she has set her story are evident everywhere, and need not be drawn out simply to show the author’s knowledge.
“Violence” is always a buzz word. I do not think The False Prince is inappropriate for young adult readers. I think middle school and elementary-aged readers need to be considered on an individual basis: some of these readers will be able to handle the story and some will not–teachers and parents should be aware of its content so they can make the best choice for a specific reader. Often in situations like this I will use the book as a read-aloud at home so that my children and I can discuss the moments that I feel would be difficult for them to process independently.
In summary, The False Prince has a good, solid plot with moments of brilliance in its storytelling and character development. For me, it had too many spots where it seemed to drag and was hard for me to stay interested, and given the violent content of Book #1 which I have already mentioned, I am apprehensive about what may be in Book #2. If you enjoy medieval settings, aggressive intrigue, mystery and adventure then you WILL enjoy this new series by a talented author.