“The False Prince” is a young adult novel, but it’s entertaining enough that a larger audience would like it. The protagonist, 14-year-old Sage, is an impish orphan in the kingdom of Carthya. He is taken against his will from his orphanage by a man named Conner, who is one of the kingdom’s regents.
Sage learns that he is just one of four captive orphans. Conner and two of his servants have taken them to help him carry out a treasonous plan. Sage doesn’t know the other captive orphans, but realizes that they are the same age and resemble one another.
Conner tells them that they are in competition to see who chosen to help him fulfill his plan. One of the boys, Latamar, who coughs and looks sickly, asks to leave because he doesn’t think he would be good competition for the others. Conner tells him he can go, but Sage and the other boys see that Linamar is killed with an arrow by one of Conner’s men. Now the boys know that their contest is no game.
Conner is one of 20 regents in Carthya. The king and queen and their oldest son, Darius, were recently poisoned. The king’s youngest son, Jaron, is believed to have been killed by pirates a few years ago, though his body was never found. The next in line to the throne is the high chamberlain, Lord Kerwyn. He is so hated by many regents, that they would rather endure a civil war than allow him to become king.
Conner plans to groom the three orphans, Sage, Tobias and Roden, to replace Prince Jaron, whose body, remember, was never found. The one who can best pretend to be Prince Jaron in two weeks will carry out Conner’s plan, and the other two will meet an uncertain fate.
Sage doesn’t want the job and doesn’t compete as intensely as the other two. The three orphans take riding lessons, practice swordsmanship, learn to read, learn the names of regents and royal lineage and learn geography. The regent Conner is nothing if not ambitious.
Tobias is the most educated of the three, so he has an advantage. Sage has a piece of gold hidden in his old clothes that disappears briefly. He finds it in Conner’s house, takes it back and refuses to say where it is. Conner sends Sage to the dungeon, where Conner’s henchmen whip him. Although he is weak, Sage negotiates with Conner and agrees to try harder to replace Prince Jaron, because both he and Conner know he will play the role best.
Tobias knows this too and stabs Sage in the back. Yet Sage convinces Tobias to help him and promises that when he becomes Prince Jaron, he’ll save Tobias. To win, however, Sage also has to beat Roden.
Conner takes his chosen orphan to court and stuns the court and claims to have found Prince Jaron. Members of the court are, of course, stunned to learn that Jaron is alive. As it turns out, members of the court aren’t the only ones who are surprised.
Nielsen is the author of “The Underworld Chronicles,” also a young adult book. She lives in Utah with her husband and three children.
Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.