Goodreads: The False Prince
Series: Ascendance #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Forcibly taken from his orphanage, Sage finds himself embroiled in a courtly intrigue. Conner, a regent of the realm, has a daring plan to prevent the kingdom from falling into civil war. He will train four orphan boys to present themselves as the long-lost prince. Only one boy can be chosen, however, and Sage will have to use all his wits to outmaneuver not only Conner, but also the other orphans.
The False Prince is a gripping old-school YA fantasy, focused solely on the delights of watching an under-estimated orphan boy outwit those who would control him. Readers may believe that they can predict the outcome of the book, but Sage’s actions will keep them guessing. How much does he really know and control, and how much is simply chance? The plot kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I promptly put in a request for the sequel. I wish more YA books were written like this one.
Much of the appeal of The False Prince is its pure escapism. The story notes political worries and, of course, political intrigue forms the foundation of the story. Sage must outmaneuver those who would control him as a puppet prince, or even have him killed, because they have their own political aspirations, or because they wish to see the country go in a different direction than the direction the previous, weak monarch took. Even so, however, the book does not go into the gritty details of politics. It does not make everything seem ugly and dirty, or suggest that nothing can ever change, or make bold statements about how all monarchs are tyrants and must be replaced by more modern-day social structures. Rather, the book has an implicit faith that a ruler can be good, can create positive change. It is infused with a sense of hope, the belief that putting the right ruler on the throne is something worth fighting for.
That is not to say that the book does not go dark places, or that it does not depict morally grey characters. Characters are tortured and killed. Female characters face the constant threat of sexual assault. And nearly all of the characters have to make choices that put their lives and safety in conflict with their values. The story never suggests that there are only easy choices out there. But it does hold out the hope that people’s actions can be meaningful.
More contemporary YA fantasies seem to be delving darker and deeper, often with the effect that change seems out of reach and everything is grim. Choices are often between bad and worse. For many, these depictions constitute “realism.” The great joy of fiction, however, is that is enables us to conceive of alternate realities, ones where everything does not have to be terrible, and people do not have to be the impotent pawns of more powerful forces. The False Prince imagines a world where people matter, and where violence and evil are not countered with more violence and evil, but with selflessness and honesty. These are the kinds of stories that I miss.
So, if you are looking for a YA fantasy that combines thrilling intrigue with a sense of hope, look no farther. The False Prince is escapism at its finest–the kind of escapism that dares readers to dream of change.