Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

falling kingdoms
Falling Kingdoms Morgan Rhodes book cover

Title: Falling Kingdoms 
Author: Morgan Rhodes 
Series: Falling Kingdoms #1 
Genre: Fantasy, YA 
Publication date: December 11, 2012 
Rating: ★★★½ 

In the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has long been forgotten. And while hard-won peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest now simmers below the surface. As the rulers of each kingdom grapple for power, the lives of their subjects are brutally transformed... and four key players, royals and rebels alike, find their fates forever intertwined. Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus are caught in a dizzying world of treacherous betrayals, shocking murders, secret alliances, and even unforeseen love. The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed? It's the eve of war.... Choose your side.

The truth is only dangerous if it can inflict injury.
Falling Kingdoms is a gorgeous piece of epic young adult fantasy. It’s more edgy than one would expect and full of surprising twists and turns. It was originally promoted for fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series, and while I definitely don’t believe most Game Of Thrones fans would think it similar, I do see why they would sell it as such. The themes of both series feel very alike, but while I definitely liked Falling Kingdoms, quality-wise, it will never even begin to compare. But let’s be fair. Writing a story of that depth and complexity is close to impossible.

The story is set in a world divided into three vastly different kingdoms: Limeros, Paelsia and Auranos. While they all live in peace, the relations between the three of them have always been strained. So when Cleo, princess of Auranos, travels to Paelsia and is suddenly involved in the murder of a poor Paelsian commoner, it is the long-awaited spark that finally lits the fire. Kings hungry for war and a population looking for justice. War looms on the horizon and at the center of it all, a bunch of teenagers - unconnected but each struggling with the consequences of their status and upbringing.

The book is told through multiple POV. We follow Cleo, princess of Auranos, a girl who has never had to learn the hardships of the world in her ever-protected palace. A young, naive girl with an optimistic view on life who is suddenly forced to grow up fast. There is also Jonas, a Paelsian rebel whose brother got murdered. His thirst for revenge is all that’s left to drive him and the only thing on his mind is to make the spoiled royals of Auranos pay. Magnus is the crown prince of Limeros, raised to be hard and emotionless. Trained to rule and conquer. But he struggles with a heart that doesn’t always want to follow that lead and a misplaced desire to please the father that only sees weakness in him. And lastly, there is Lucia. Princess of Limeros and also an awakening sorceress in a land where witchery is punishable by death.

Even paradise could become a prison if one had enough time to take notice of the walls.

The main characters were interesting and creative. All four of them completely different. Whereas Cleo was bright, Magnus was cold. Jonas was full of initiative, Lucia was ever hesitant. At first, the four of them are completely unconnected. (Except of course Magnus and Lucia) Until circumstance eventually brings them together. I was especially fond of Magnus, even though he was a bit twisted at times. His storyline was often sad and maddening, but it made me all the more invested. And while I definitely liked Jonas and Lucia a lot as well, I can’t say the same for Cleo. I thought she was pretty much a spoiled brat. And even though basically the entire book tries to tell us how much she isn’t one, I still ended up disliking her. But I have good hope for the future.

I liked the characters and I loved the story. Kingdoms at war, rebellion, magic, sorcery, mysterious birds flying around, a lot of murders, prophecies… It’s the dream of any fantasy lover. This book is full of great to absolutely fabulous ideas. At times it’s darker than you would expect and there are even some plot lines with questionable morality. Great!

perhaps a heart takes experience and time to harden.

So what didn’t work? The writing is this book’s main problem. It is so very… plain. There is absolutely nothing that makes it stand out. There is no magic in the words, no allure. Which made me feel distant a lot of the time. I liked the story, but the characters never really managed to make me feel. A book should be so much more than its story. It also bothered me that everything had to be said. There can be such power in showing a reader how a characters feels instead of just having him say it. Especially when the dialogue is written in such an ordinary (sometimes cheesy) way.

The pacing is another problem. I know that nowadays (ya) books need to be fast-paced. As soon as there is a large amount of text without dialogue, a book is judged as ‘boring’ and forever doomed. And while I personally prefer slow-paced fantasy, I definitely appreciate the faster ones too. But there is such a thing as over-paced. I don’t know what happened here. Was there a tiger lurking in the corner when Morgan Rhodes wrote this book? WHY? It ruins so much of what could otherwise have been a truly epic read. But everything was rushed. Instalove, scenes that didn’t get the attention they deserved, barely any descriptive prose - which made the experience rather dull at some points - and no time to develop anything properly. So on top of that, the story also got a bit of a credibility problem. We only ever got scenes that were ‘huge’ in some way. Every subtlety was lost and things felt often too easy, because it never seemed that any time had passed at all.

Long story short, awesome story - poor execution. I will definitely read the next book(s), I’m curious, but I do hope Morgan Rhodes improved her writing skills.

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