I was enthralled by The False Prince, the story of an orphan caught in a dangerous plan to place a false prince on the throne. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel, The Runaway King. Sage, our hero, and three other orphan boys have been purchased by a nobleman, Conner, who intends to use them in his scheme to control the throne. They’re pitted against each other and their lives are on the line. The boy he chooses will be little more than a puppet, and the others will be dead.
It’s a compelling story that I had trouble putting down, even though it’s all too easy to understand why most people don’t get along with Sage very well. He grows on you, though.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
I’ve actually managed to avoid most of the spoilers in this review—if this book sounds intriguing, be assured you’ll get the full enjoyment of watching the plot unravel.
There’s a good bit of death, on screen and off. However, all of it matters. No death goes unremarked, even if it’s deserved in plot-logic.
Sage gets beaten up a lot. There’s a sense that he brings some of it on himself because he won’t just do what he’s told, but his inability to follow other people’s orders is part of why he’s the center of this story. He hits back when it won’t get him killed.
At one point, Sage is tortured—hung by his wrists in a dungeon and whipped, then left to hang there for a few days. It’s not graphic, while still conveying that this wasn’t a minor ordeal.
Imogen, one of the servant girls, is beaten, although we never see it happen. She has a bruise on her face, a cut on her forehead. Sage stands up for her, but that attention only makes things worse for her for a while.
Loyalty and Duty
There’s a lot about what it means to be loyal and figuring out who’s on your side. The story rebels against the idea that it should be your duty to mindlessly obey those who have power over you, although it also makes it clear that things can be really hard on you when you aren’t obedient.
There are different ways to rebel. Imogen pretends to be mute, which deflects Conner’s attention from her. It’s a quiet rebellion, but it keeps him from getting what he wants.
Sage does his best to honor the promises he makes to people, even when it makes things hard for him.
There’s very little honesty in this book. Lots of people are hiding secrets of all kinds. Sage is a thief and a liar with an attitude problem. The court is full of deadly intrigue.
Sexism and Classism
It’s not really dwelled on, but it’s clear that women have less power than men. When Imogen’s mother refuses to marry Conner, he raises their rent until they have to essentially sell Imogen to him. She pretends to be mute so that he won’t want to marry her. The princess is betrothed from birth to whoever sits on the throne—but she’s under no illusions that she’s much more than a pawn.
Class lines aren’t supposed to be crossed, yet Sage routinely flaunts those rules as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy. It’s fast paced and full of tension, yet it also takes time to explore themes of sacrifice and duty. I’d say it’s good for ages 10 and up as long as the themes appeal. It’s good for reluctant readers, too—the plot is engaging enough to keep adults interested.