Review | Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes


fallingkingdomsTitle: Falling Kingdoms (2012)
Author: Morgan Rhodes
Publisher: Penguin
Read: 21st – 24th February 2018
Genre: young-adult; fantasy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“In a land where magic has been forgotten and peace has reigned for centuries, unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms battle for power… A princess must journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long-thought extinct. A rebel becomes the leader of a bloody revolution. A Sorceress discovers the truth about the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield. It’s the eve of war. Each must choose a side. KINGDOMS WILL FALL.” (Synopsis from the publisher)

As the title suggests, Falling Kingdoms is the first book in a series which tells of multiple kingdoms at various stages of destruction and, as the synopsis suggests, each kingdom is introduced and focalised through characters from those kingdoms – princess, rebel, and sorceress alike. One of the strengths from the very outset was Morgan Rhodes’ ability to balance all the storylines and the kingdoms; each kingdom had its own distinct “personality” and culture and, very quickly, it’s easy to differentiate between the different peoples and their different motivations within the larger story. Through the introductory chapter and into the novel with the idea of the “Watchers” and “The Sanctuary”, readers are given the impression that this is just one, opening glimpse of a much bigger narrative arc that will pull along its characters through their various different developments.

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

This is something I’m especially hopeful for given the slightly immature nature of some of the novel’s protagonists. Cleo, for example, seemed to make incredibly impulsive and borderline immature decisions which, whilst understandable given her age and her sheltered upbringing, were incredibly frustrating to read as a reader when I wanted to root for her but found myself annoyed by her decision-making progress and naivety. I don’t think the genre itself can be entirely blamed for this – although its protagonists are young adults, not adults, and prone to falling into occasional tropes (namely “falling in love” within a paragraph), I’m hopeful that the narrative arc will lead them down their own journey of maturity and personal growth.

“You must continue to believe with all your heart. Sometimes belief is all if takes to make something real.”

I wasn’t quite sure about some of the character arcs within this first book – I’m sure these characters will come to be developed more subtly throughout the course of the subsequent novels but some of the arcs within this opening story felt a little heavy-handed, particularly that of Magnus who I was torn between feeling sorry for and dismissing his sympathy-inducing storyline as simply too try-hard (akin, in different ways, to Snape and Loki) – ultimately, however, it made Magnus seem entitled and then moody when he didn’t get what he wanted, neither of which particularly endeared me to him. Considering I was all ready and willing to feel sympathy for him, the journey he went on over the course of this novel unfortunately ended up leaving a strange taste in my mouth. I can only hope that he will be “redeemed” by more careful character development in the subsequent novels. Although I hate to say it, in the hands of a more accomplished writer, I can’t help but feel that the various character arcs probably could have been handled in a much more nuanced and subtle manner; instead, the characterisation of quite a few characters was a little clumsy and they began to largely fall into their various stock types. However, even despite this, I still felt invested in the characters and their relationships and, in particular, I thought the relationship between sisters Emilia and Cleo was lovely.

” ‘Hate is such a strong emotion. Much more powerful than indifference. But those who burn with hate can also love just as intensely. Can’t they? When you hate–or love–do you do so with all your heart? So much that it feels as if you might die from it?’ “

What surprised me most about this novel was the violence and brutality which Morgan Rhodes was willing to show enacted by her characters, often at the drop of a hat; the characters pull no punches, that’s for sure. Similarly, Rhodes herself isn’t afraid to be callous and kill off a character just because she can. Some of the character deaths in this novel felt a little unnecessary as the plot didn’t need them to happen in order to advance the story, but it certainly succeeded in putting me on the edge of my seat as I literally could not guess who might get the chop next! There were many moments of me metaphorically clutching at my heart during my reading of this book. In some ways, I now understand the comparisons to Game of Thrones because this narrative is just as fatal to its characters as George R.R. Martin’s tales of Westeros – however, I’d respectfully disagree that this is some kind of watered down, tamer version of A Song of Ice and Fire for the YA market because, certainly in terms of ruthless violence, Falling Kingdoms hints at being just as savage and no character is safe in the hands of the author.

“But perhaps a heart takes experience and time to harden.”

All in all, Falling Kingdoms is the first book in what I know is a much-loved YA fantasy series and whilst I wasn’t blown away totally, I’m intrigued enough about the groundwork laid in this novel to want to continue on with the next books in the series. By virtue of its genre it reads very quickly and the plot and characters are interesting enough to allow a reader to become quickly engrossed and invested in it. Although the writing style was too plain for my tastes and lacked any sense of nuance (the author straight out tells you, rather than shows you), I thought the character interactions and the setup of the fantasy world hinted at the potential for a lot of growth and development that I hope to see realised in the sequel, Rebel Spring. 

“Even in the darkest and most cruel person, there is still a kernel of good. And within the most perfect champion, there is darkness. The question is, will one give in to the dark or the light? It’s something we decide with every choice we make, every day that we exist. What might not be evil to you could be evil to someone else. Knowing this makes us powerful even without magic.”

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