The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
Review by Whitney
Description from Amazon.com: In this first book in a remarkable trilogy, an orphan is forced into a twisted game with deadly stakes.
Choose to lie...or choose to die.
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.
An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.
I really enjoyed this book. It reminds me in good ways of Megan Whelan Turner's The Thief, only geared toward a middle-grade audience. Sage has a remarkable, memorable voice, and it's fun to watch him outwit people older, better informed, and more malicious than him, time after time, with a twist at the end that startles the characters and the reader alike. He also has his own fears and inner demons that make him a deep, complicated character. According to the author, "There were several moments when I knew what was waiting for Sage if he didn’t back down, and yet, he never would. So I gritted my teeth and let things unfold the only way they could with him. As I work on the sequels, he continues to surprise, amuse, and shock me." The book ends on a mostly-satisfying note, but I waited impatiently for the sequel, The Runaway King, which I enjoyed even more than The False Prince.
Because Sage's troubles sometimes involve blood and a moderate level of violence this book is probably most appropriate for older middle-grade readers.