The False Prince, by Jennifer A Nielsen [Ascendance Trilogy #1]

  • TITLE: The False Prince [Ascendance Trilogy #1]
  • AUTHOR: Jennifer A Nielsen
  • PUBLISHER: Scholastic
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 7th June 2012

The False Prince, by Jennifer A Nielsen, is the first of the Ascendance Trilogy; a relatively new YA fantasy series that offers excitement, intrigue and secrets. Before I start, I’ll say that although the cover of the edition I have (UK paperback) is very YA, I think the (I presume US paperback) alternative cover is less so, and quite rightly, since, as with many other series, the subject matter and content of this book would allow it to masquerade fairly well along with the Big Books in the regular section. It reminded me of my ever raved-on-about Seven Realms series, by Cinda Williams Chima (I promise to stop going on about this, one day… maybe).

Sage has been kidnapped from his orphanage with three other boys from different orphanages, all of whom share some resemblance. They are all very different boys with different backgrounds and skills—which is perfect for what Conner, the noble regent behind their kidnap, is looking for. With a wider choice of boys, it is more likely that he will find a suitable puppet through whom he can rule by proxy: for Conner has high ambitions and although he claims loyalty to his country, he wishes to pass off one of his chosen orphans as the lost Prince Jaron.

Jaron has been missing since he was ten years old, when he went down at sea on a vessel attacked by foreign pirates. Now that the throne hangs in the balance and Conner has proof that the missing Jaron will never come back, he intends to return the Prince to his country, by training, moulding and manipulating one of the four boys, making him fit Jaron’s shoes as surely as if they had been his all along.

Sage is not convinced. He does not trust Conner’s game and does not want to sit on the throne. But Conner is serious and the alternative is death, so, alongside having to compete against the other boys—all of whom know the cost of failure and disappointing Conner—Sage must try to find a way of escaping without being drawn deeper into the web.

With few friends and many enemies, Sage needs to be clever to stay ahead of the game and keep his head above water. The kingdom might be in chaos soon if Conner’s words are true, but if the King, Queen and the Crown Prince Darius really are dead, then whoever is chosen to be Prince Jaron will inevitably not be a prince for long—he will soon be King.

Convinced there is more going on than there seems, and holding his own cards tight to his chest, Sage plays Conner’s game on one side, whilst putting together his own hand under the table. Sage has never let anyone rule his destiny—and he’s not about to.  But Sage is stubborn and though Conner makes it clear he is a good match from the beginning, he fights tooth and nail, angering Conner and threatening to blow his chances of survival.

Still, Sage cannot bring himself to simply comply; he smells a rat and regardless of whether they would betray him at the first opportunity to save themselves, Sage needs to think of the other boys’ fates as well as his own. With his own secrets and nobody to trust them with, Sage is alone in a tangled web of lies that he was brought into, entirely against his will.

There is no defying Conner—they’ve all seen what happens if he’s pushed—and yet Sage is determined to uncover the whole truth, even if that means giving up everything he is and becoming what he must.

Expertly written and moreishly compelling, The False Prince is a cracking story that is definitely a page-turner and will keep you reading late at night. It’s fun, furious and fast-paced and offers a little bit of good old-fashioned fantasy, with a bucket load of intrigue and mystery thrown in.

It’s a devilishly clever read with twists and excitement and a lot of secrets and lies. It is a wonderfully addictive story that won’t last you very long, as you’ll be eager to get to the end. With likeable, readable characters and moreish prose, The False Prince is a complete success.

5/5

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Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond

  • TITLE: Blackwood
  • AUTHOR: Gwenda Bond
  • PUBLISHER: Strange Chemistry
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 6th September 2012

It’s been an autumn of YA Fantasy so far, so I might as well keep up the trend—after all, I hold to it that the main difference between YA and standard fantasy (I refuse to call it “adult” fantasy, by the way) is marketing, and sometimes little more. A book is a book is a book: people are inevitably influenced by whatever is slapped on the spine and if that happens to be a YA imprint, then they see YA. My go-to example is Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series, which is found comfortably nestled between its supposedly grown-up big brothers and sisters, in the SFF section and not the Teen section. Sometimes it’s like Russian Roulette, trying to guess where a book will be put!

But without further rambling about what should really be a blog post of its own one day, onto Blackwood.

I don’t have that much reading time: I write during “work hours”, tied to my desk at home, and living with my brother, who is more like a twin, really, since we’re so similar, I end up spending evenings and weekends partaking in our joint hobbies of RPGs and gaming, and generally doing Stuff Together. That, and the cats take my time. All five of them.

The point I’m making is that Blackwood would not have found its way onto my reading list so quickly in ordinary circumstances. As it happens, I’ve been ill and my usual routine was thrown, and I have been eating books. I wanted more Strange Chemistry, but had just finished up all I had access to—save Broken, which I’ve been saving for over the Christmas holidays as a “people are visiting” read—and needed something good.

So, I took a look at the synopsis and put the cover out of my head whilst I considered it. Now, it’s not that I don’t like the cover; I do—as it happens, it’s a very pretty cover. But, it didn’t appeal to me, or draw me to the book. It was a little… well, I expected it to be a little too much like some of the Paranormal Romance-slash-Urban Fantasy I’ve seen out there, and I just wasn’t biting.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Ironically, the romance element of the story is probably my absolute favourite part. Hell, I love romance—who doesn’t? Everybody loves seeing the guy get the girl (or the girl get the girl/guy get the guy—it’s all love and it’s all quidditch to me!). So for there to be a believable, fun, tense romance between the characters, well, it was good. Yes, yes—so there’s lots of romance in YA. Well, ever think why? Maybe because young adults can appreciate that the world can be a good place, and that love is one of the things that makes it so. Adults can be so jaded sometimes. Regardless, Blackwood isn’t all about romance and lovey-dovey stuff; in fact, it’s a tense, eerie, creepy horror/fantasy story that knows exactly what it is doing and does it so well.

It’s a brilliant, gripping story with characters that are both engaging and likeable. I loved Blackwood. It’s another five-star book for me, which shows that Strange Chemistry get it right—a lot.

Blackwood tells the story of an American tale I’d never even heard of. It uses the mystery of Roanoke Island—where one hundred and fourteen colonists disappeared centuries before—to set the stage for a page-turning, exciting urban fantasy-esque story that is as cleverly thought out as it is executed. It’s an almost perfect book. In fact, nothing could have made it better for me: it was perfect. A standalone novel with great characters and a damn satisfying ending? What more could you ask for?

It’s also a story about belonging, and man if I don’t like stories about identity and belonging. They strike a chord. Miranda is the island’s freak; cursed and sorely missing her mother, yet estranged from her father due to his alcoholism. Yet, the relationship between father and daughter is far more complicated than that of a drunken, widower husband missing his wife and his neglected daughter. There is a deeper, darker story between the Blackwoods and their past than even outcast, awkward Miranda can realise. There is a darkness within her that she hasn’t even realised; a darkness that will try to change her and make her betray herself and everything she knows.

Phillips, on the other hand—son of the police chief of Roanoke—has his own issues. Descended from a line tied to the island as closely as the Blackwoods, yet with a completely different history interwoven with their bloodline, Phillips left the island as a way of dealing with the voices in his head. It’s not that he’s insane, just that he hears the voices of the dead, as loudly as if they were next to him, or as softly as a whisper, just on the edge of hearing—whichever they pick on the day. Driven from his home after giving his father no choice—after all, the son of the police chief cannot let his son be seen as a petty criminal without suffering more embarrassment than can reasonably be shaken off—Phillips has found peace from the voices and plans never to return to the island.

That is, of course, until events that he cannot ignore pull him back to Roanoke—and back to the voices. Soon, he finds himself drawn to Miranda and involved in something so twisted and extraordinary, that he must learn to accept what and who is he before he can even stand a chance of keeping Miranda and the rest of the island safe.

Bond writes a compelling, addictive story that merges together so many genres it’s difficult to really call it one or the other: with elements of romance, mystery, the supernatural and even horror, Blackwood is a unique, exciting story that kept me glued to the page.

It is an engrossing, detailed story that is deliciously written and marks Bond as a writer to look out for. She can write: her prose is quirky, fresh and absolutely fantastic.

All in all, Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood is a gorgeous adventure of a book that simply must be read.

5/5