by Morgan Rhodes
Publication: December 2012 from Razorbill
Rating: 2.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I enjoyed it well enough
In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power – brutally transforming their subjects’ lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:
Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.
Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished–and finds himself the leader of a people’s revolution centuries in the making.
Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past – and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.
Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword…
The only outcome that’s certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?
What to say about Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. I don’t know if it’s because I used to exclusively read high fantasy, but I had expectations going into this book and they were just not met. I’m going to try and break this down without getting too spoilery and explain what I liked, what I didn’t and how I felt turning the last page.
Honestly, the beginning and the end are the best parts of the novel. Right away as the book opens, we have intrigue, betrayal, magic and the promise of more to come. This is followed quickly by a murder that starts a young man on a quest for vengeance and you just know is going to lead to bigger issues. All promising, all interesting – but then I started getting that little crease in my forehead as I continue reading showing I’m troubled. First, I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. The main, point-of-view characters are Cleo, princess of Auranos; Jonas, from Paelsia, who’s brother is murdered by Cleo’s intended; and Magnus, prince of Limeros and I couldn’t connect with any of them (including the secondary characters of the kings, Sabina the witch, and Magnus’ sister Lucia). Cleo is spoiled, nervous, whiny and a bit wimpy. Also has a massive case of insta-love at one point which really threw me off. Jonas has no idea what he wants. At first he’s all “vengeance and revolution!” which lasts for a while and then changes into “I’m not sure about this, I’m actually thinking the princess who I until now hated with a fiery passion might be not so bad and need my help because this revolution thing – not such a good idea”. He also has no problems using people for his own gain. And Magnus, I dislike. He’s nice to his sister Lucia because he is completely in love with her (incest, yay. Only not so much) but completely awful and cruel to everyone else. Lucia herself is supposed to be this powerful sorceress yet has little to no character development and questions nothing. She shows bits of a backbone and intelligence at points, but not for long. And Sabina! At the beginning I expect her to have this large roll to play, but nope. Barely in it. And when she is, it’s just to further the plot and provide information for Magnus and Lucia.
Now, Cleo started to redeem herself at the end. Remember, I liked the ending. After everything awful that could happen to her outside of torture and dying does, she starts to actually think and grow a bit of a spine. I also love her quote on page 357: “Can’t a strong person cry?” Yes Cleo, they can. I’m glad to see that at least Morgan Rhodes doesn’t abide by the idea that a strong character is one who never cries. And Magnus even shows a bit of a softer side by helping a kitchen maid leave the castle (albeit after she’s caught spying. For him). But besides the characterization, another factor that threw me about the book was the writing. In the beginning, it is mentioned numerous times that Cleo had a horrible secret – after about the tenth mention, I just wanted to know already. Same thing with Magnus. It’s mentioned and referred to repeatedly that he has a scar on his face. Eventually I just rolled my eyes whenever it was brought up, for no purpose that I could see other than to really ram home the fact that his father the king is a right bastard – which we already know, what with all the killing and torturing he does. The romance in Falling Kingdoms is a bit off. Insta-love, incest, talks of suicide after a love interest has died, other love interests just being used to further an agenda.
But this isn’t all to say I found no redeeming qualities in the story. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the world building, I did enjoy the magic concepts present and the idea of a whole religion founded on two goddesses who actually existed and were powerful witches. And the end of the book really kept my attention (I’m glad I kept reading!). Once the battle started, I found myself much more interested in the events unfolding. Morgan Rhodes provides some bloody, detailed descriptions of the battle and the emotions of the characters experiencing it. Everything is coming to a head and the real intense court intrigue has begun. I’m actually curious to see how everything will play out after such a large scale invasion and conquering has taken place.
So Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is one of those books that while I have some misgivings about characters and some plot points, it managed to provide enough interest that I am curious to see where the sequel will take it. I can definitely see the potential in the world that Morgan Rhodes has created, and can only hope that as the series progresses so too do her characters wise up and mature. I think that my reading experience would have been quite different if I had better feelings about the characters. Though I had contrasting emotions, another reader may not. I say it’s worth a try if you enjoy fantasy and want to see for yourself what it’s all about.
ARC provided by Razorbill in exchange for participation in the blog tour and my honest review. Thank you!