Author: E.G. Radcliff
In a hellish city, the fate of a young boy rests on the very thing he fears most…
Robbed of his childhood by tragedy and betrayal and forced onto the streets, only fury makes young Ninian feel whole – and in a world of gangs and fae. Ninian is more than willing to fight for his life.
But it doesn’t take much to topple a life which is already balanced on the edge of a knife. And by the time a desperate Ninian realizes he’s crossed the wrong person, it is much, much too late.
In his frantic struggle to right his collapsing world, Ninian’s furious, bloody efforts are dredging up history he’d rather forget – the past is tired of being held at bay, and even fighting cannot protect Ninian from himself.
So when he meets a crimson-eyed stranger, a boy so broken he refuses even to speak, Ninian does not believe he has the capacity to care.
He is wrong.
And that will change everything…
Rating: Immersive, Heart-gripping characters, Insightful, Engaging and Emotional
The First Review:
This is one of those books that swept me away, though it happens to be that I picked up The Hidden King first, and was swept away by its opening and knew I’d love these characters. But then I went back to The Last Prince (or forward, since it’s the second one written, but the first one in the chronology of Áed and Ninian’s lives).
The Last Prince is Ninian, an orphaned boy living on the street after he fled from an abusive uncle. Ninian has to steal not to eat well, but to eat at all, and those who are slightly better off throw him out of the shelter he takes in the lees of their dwelling places. Yet, even though Ninian doesn’t look like much, wrapped in an old, old cloak, he speaks like royalty – or, rather unsuccessfully, struggles not to speak like royalty. No one else in the Maze knows half the words Ninian does, and while some of Ninian’s skills may turn out to be useful, others – like reading and writing – are absolutely useless. This is not a classic lost or last prince fantasy story.
He was so tired of thinking. He was so angry – most feelings felt better as anger, and that condensed behind his breastbone. It was safe to hate. Hatred didn’t hurt.
Ninian captured my heart at once, as he wanders determinedly through the Maze, hungry and trying to find something to eat, and failing at stealing anything without being caught. He uses anger to help him get through things and not to feel the pain and despair, and everything about him is so personable and touching. And then there are characters, even the ones you only meet once, like Kelp, the homeless child who calls herself whatever she finds that’s pretty that day, who Ninian shares his duck with.
Ninian’s journey is so heart-rending and hopeful at once, and the way he reacts when he’s locked in the cellar by the gang and he tries to get out, and he writes down all the reasons he is angry – both at himself and at everyone else – in the dark, and everything else – it’s so touching and real. He’s so worried about belonging only to himself and not letting anyone own him, and in the end the way that goes is ironic.
And then when he meets Áed, and the way their relationship grows after that, is the most touching heart-warming thing in the world. For the things he’s done and the things that have happened to him and the things he has let happen to him, Ninian feels like a monster and like he might as well die, and why does he even want to live, and he doesn’t want to live, even though for some reason he grovels and begs and fights and does things that are abhorrent to him to keep it. But the broken boy with the shattered hands who won’t even speak – at first – breathes hope and the knowledge Ninian still cares back into him. Slowly, Áed’s confidence becomes enough, or at least becomes an anchor for Ninian, and Ninian has a reason to live and to enjoy life.
The book made me feel so much. The characters and their interactions always evoke feeling, and sometimes it is very, very strong. Sometimes, for some of the characters, it’s pretty mixed, too. And I loved the character of a street-boy thief who gets pulled into a gang, and Ninian think he has no spine, and maybe he should have more, but there are lines he won’t cross, and he still has a heart even when he thinks he doesn’t, and he cares and loves, and I liked that so much.
I really loved Ronan, too, but not everything can fit in a review or it will get really long!
I just wish that something that’s pretty disgusting had been written a little differently. What happened was not gratuitous, but it was pretty gross, and I thought some references and sentences could have been made … less gross, without losing anything, I think. But it was not really gore or graphic. A great many adult fantasy novels – and young adult fantasy novels – are far, far worse. I’m just sensitive.
The Full Review (What Some People Might Call ‘ALL THE SPOILERS – maybe not ALL’):
The beginning of how Ninian gets in trouble – except that he is already in trouble, struggling to eat – is when he dares to steal food from a shopowner called Máel Máedóc. Máel Máedóc is a big man with a reputation for being ‘righteous,’ and not tolerating any nonsense. Hunting down and killing anyone who makes trouble for him and his shop. So when a desperately hungry Ninian drops his guard in the midst of abundance and eats his belly full on Máel Máedóc’s food, and is caught, Ninian expects the big shopowner to kill him.
Or when Máel Máedóc says he is going to let him go, to molest him, since that’s what his uncle did to him and told Ninian he wasn’t worth the ground he slept on. But Máel Máedóc means money – he expects to be repaid in full for the food Ninian ate, and he expects Ninian not to steal the money. And Ninian is convinced that Máel Máedóc will hunt him down and kill him if he does not keep his end of the bargain, and he is in dread of being in debt – of being owned, having a part of him owned.
He was in debt. Máel Máedóc owned a part of him. That’s what debt was. Ownership.
Turns out Máel Máedóc is either as naïve as Ninian – maybe more so – or he’s something worse. Fact is, I don’t like Máel Máedóc anymore than I like the bar-keeper – Orrin is his name – who suggested that Ninian’s troubles were due to not praying enough. Máel Máedóc is a self-righteous prig. Who knows what his past history is or what goes on inside him, so it’s a bit hasty for real judgment, but that’s certainly what he acts like: a man who thinks he is awesome and wonderful and better than those who don’t have his position, his luck. He’s not cruel, he can be magnanimous, he can offer kindness and help to those in desperate need, but he doesn’t look at the other side of life, he judges those who don’t have what he has and can’t find a way to “make an honest living,” and that’s probably because he’s intentionally ignorant. Because who can live in the Maze as long as Máel Máedóc has, and know that some children don’t have families, or the only families they have abused them? That they don’t have any skills and can’t find anyone who wants to take them on to do any reasonable, honest, labor.
My skin crawled with anticipation that something couldn’t be right when Laoise takes Ninian in, after he gets in fight in the slightly-bad part of the Maze, and assures him that everything will be all right and she has a solution to his problem. Then, after she sells him to the gang, they throw him in a locked celler because they don’t trust him not to escape. His emotions, his fight, are so poignant, and the way one feels the passage of lonely, unmeasured hours in the dark without options is really well done.
At first, he just traced jagged, aimless scrawls, but then, blindly, he found himself tracing the shapes of words.
Fight, he wrote.
The words started coming more easily.
His hand paused, and he shuffled his hand over the words.
He closed his eyes in the dark.
Who was he angry at?
Máel Máedóc. That was an easy answer. He pressed me to this.
Brígh. Also easy. She locked me in a fucking cellar.
The mounting anger felt good.
Cutting the quote here. I would quote the whole chapter, and how he erases the words, and tries to fight his way out, but he can’t get out again, because it’s all so good, but … well, this is a review, not the book!
Ninian’s feelings, his disgust at himself, his thought – aren’t we so dirty, it doesn’t matter what we do – but then, even despite himself, there are lines he won’t cross, and his heart hurts for the harm he causes.
That shop-keeping I can’t stand, Máel Máedóc, is how Ninian meets Áed. Máel Máedóc finds the broken boy with the broken hands on the shore and takes him into the shop, and when Ninian comes back to pay his debt with money from the gang – money for killing a man – Máel Máedóc reacts in horror to what Ninian has done and refuses the money, but asks Ninian to try to help him reach the hurting boy.
And the two boys, both hurting so much for such different reasons, match each other. It’s so sweet and so beautiful, how Ninian finds himself loving Áed, and trying to be there for him the best that he can, even if he says some pretty stupid things, like, “Are you okay?” “Does it hurt?” when the answers are pretty obvious! And Áed’s belief that Ninian is a good person brings some of the light back to Ninian, especially since Ninian sees Áed read people so much.
“Ninian,” said Áed, not even hiding his tone, “play the card on the far left.”
Ninian did. He could feel Áed’s hair brushing the side of his neck, the warmth where Áed, sitting a bit behind Ninian, had dropped his chin on Ninian’s shoulder, and the weight of Áed leaning on him. It turned out that once he grew comfortable enough to show it, Áed was very touch-starved. Since they’d finished the stew, Ninian didn’t think Áed had broken contact once.
And it’s Áed’s confidence in Ninian that helps Ninian make the choice to use the money he got for killing the man to buy as much food as he can and give it to the man’s children – where he discovers that, while he did a great wrong and hurt an innocent man, the man is not actually dead! Ninian’s feelings, his shame, his struggle, his mingled grief and joy, are all so real.
And I loved how protective of Áed Ninian got when he saw Máel Máedóc straggling him. Máel Máedóc’s intentions were nothing of the sort that the pose reminded Ninian of, but Ninian’s protectiveness is so right. He won’t hurt Áed or let anyone else hurt Áed for anything, and it’s so sweet and wonderful. And the two are so different. I love how Áed encourages Ninian not to get too riled up about people calling Áed bad names, because it doesn’t matter to Áed, and it doesn’t matter to their relationship, and so Ninian shouldn’t waste his energy on it. It’s all how sweet.
And perhaps my favourite scene with Ronan, the child Áed finds in the trash, is when Ronan won’t sleep because the window is jammed and he wants to fix the window, and Ninian shows him how after demanding that Ronan not learn or inherit his own sleep problems (I love Ronan, “I can’t inherit anything from you,” “Don’t it learn then,” from Ninian), and then Ninian tells him he’ll jam the window again if Ronan isn’t in bed in three seconds, and it’s so easy to imagine the child running to the bed and pulling the blankets up and saying, “I’m in bed!” looking at Ninian with his eyes.
I could say more, but I’ll just end it here: I loved this book. I loved these characters.