This week’s theme is books that won the Early and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Cybil, when I was one of the Round 2 judges. First up, from 2013:
In the fantasy medieval country of Carthya, 15 year-old Sage and three other orphan boys are purchased by Conner and taken to his estate away from the city. Conner is one of the King’s regents and has come up with a desperate plan to prevent civil war breaking out in the country – one of these boys will masquerade as the long missing Prince Jaron. The boys must compete against each other in learning the ways of royalty, and Conner will make his choice in two weeks.
I love the complexity and ambiguity of the characters, Sage especially. He is a charismatic and flawed narrator who does not let the reader in on all he knows. I found Sage’s voice really appealing – snarky and unpredictable – and voice is always an important element for me. I also found Connor to be intriguing – he genuinely believe he is doing the right thing for Carthya, even if his methods are questionable.
The False Prince is reminiscent of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief (2005) both in terms of its setting and in the unreliability of its narrator. However, despite The Thief’s many virtues, kid appeal is not one of them; so it’s great to have The False Prince to fill that niche.
The plot is packed with adventure and intrigue, and includes several surprises along the way before reaching a satisfyingly action-packed conclusion, leaving the reader ready for the rest of the, sadly rather disappointing, trilogy.