It’s been a while since I’ve read a book with such a masterfully manipulative plot.Sage, son of a failed musician and a barmaid, is bought out of his orphanage by a nobleman named Connor. With the kingdom on the brink of civil war, Connor believes the only way to keep the kingdom from descending into chaos by the returning Prince Jaren. Four years ago the boat that transported Jaren was besieged by pirates and sunk. Jaren’s body was never found. Now, only Jaren can save the kingdom, even if he’s not him.Despite the pre-industrial setting, Sage’s story reminds me of modern reality shows, but unlike those shows, his stakes are not money or fame, but his very life and the fate of a kingdom. Sage is one of four orphans recruited by Connor, but only one can be Connor’s prince. The rest will die, to keep Connor’s treacherous secret. Sage soon learns that alliances are fragile among his competitors, and he may need to form his own rules if he wishes to survive the game.Nielsen turns what might be a predictable plot into one with several twists. Among the boys, and Connors servants alliances are make, broken, reformed and betrayed. Through it all, Sage’s very sarcastic and practical voice holds our attention. While Nielsen breaks the point-of-view “rules” on two occasion, both times it is done deliberately and from necessity. She is just as careful with the rest of the novel, guiding our attention just where she wants it to go. I’m eager to re-read the book, now that I know all the secrets, just to admire how well she directed my reading.