Sunday, January 19, 2014


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*  Book Review:  The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Welcome to Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM), a weekly event hosted by author Shannon Messenger. For a list of other MMGM posts, click HERE.

Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic, Inc.
352 pp.
Ages 10 - 14

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.


Well, I wouldn't go so far as to call it remarkable (from the summary). But did I enjoy it? Yes.

I'd heard so much hype about this book (which won 2013 Best Middle Grade fantasy book for both the Cybils and Whitney awards) I expected more from it. Don't get me wrong. The book is well-written and the story engaging, but  I figured out the entire plot from the first chapter. And I often found myself doing the eye roll at some of the story elements that conveniently appeared just when our hero needed them to.

But enough complaints. What did I like about The False Prince? Sage has attitude. A lot of it actually, bordering on unlikable. But he's overall a good enough guy to convince readers to root for him along the way. Lucky for him (one of those conveniences I mentioned) that a member of court just happens to choose him as one of the potential stand-ins for the lost-at-sea heir to the throne. My favorite character was Imogen, a mute kitchen servant who isn't really a mute at all. (I never fully grasped what she gained by her muteness.) And I actually liked Conner, the despicable fellow plotting the whole false prince thing, until he ends up being so very stupid as to be the only one NOT able to figure out the truth about Sage when everyone else already has. (Another convenience.)

Nielsen's unembellished writing style and distinct characterizations make up for the rather mundane plot, though I will say that what I as an adult found mundane and predictable, my kids found exciting. And what kids' think of any book is what counts. When my six-year-old asks when he could listen to books two and three, I knew he was hooked.  For that I give The False Prince:


Profanity:  None
Sexuality:  None
Violence:  Moderate


  1. Sorry you didn't love this more. I nominated this for the Cybils and am thrilled it won. I'm reading The Shadow Throne now, the last book in the series. It's fantastic too.

    1. Hi Natalie,

      I liked it enough to give it 4 stars, which says a lot. And my kids loved it. And that's what matters. :)

  2. Interesting. Now of course I feel compelled to check it out and see for myself. :D Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and happy MMGM!


  3. Yes, I have to remind myself sometimes that children books are written for children and they are the best critics. Thanks for featuring and I will check this one out on my own to see if I share your thoughts.