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Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms
by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms

By: Morgan Rhodes

Release Date: December 11, 2012

Rating: 3 Stars

Summary: 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?

In Falling Kingdoms, Morgan Rhodes (longtime paranormal author Michelle Rowen under a pen name) tries to do something that hasn’t really been attempted much in the Young Adult genre – write a complex high fantasy focusing on the political intrigues surrounding an expansive cast of characters. I have to give Rowen credit, she’s a versatile writer who seems to have switched genres seamlessly enough, but, unfortunately, there’s a reason why there aren’t more Young Adult Game of Thrones on the market, this genre simply doesn’t translate well from an Adult to a Young Adult audience. I have a feeling Falling Kingdoms will be better received by those who aren’t as familiar with the genre, perhaps with just the ubiquitous Game of Thrones, but as for me, a longtime fan of these kinds of books, not really impressed.

My problem? I get a distinct feeling that the aim of this book was to be conventional and unambitious. Nothing wrong with that, after all, I liked the book, but it didn’t pull me in, either with the fantastical setting or the palace intrigue, as much as others I’ve read in the past have. All the Game of Thrones imports you’d expect to find, the bastard son, the incest, the conniving mistress, the violent character deaths, the magical overtones, yep, they’re all here – but beyond that, the story is rather stiff. The whole thing’s driven by the death of one wine seller’s son and ends in war and massive bloodshed, which is actually pretty cool and kind of poetic if you think about it, but the way Rowen writes the story from point A to point B is really simplistic and just doesn’t have that feel of epicness, emotional investment, or intrigue that I’ve come to appreciate from many a book I’ve read before.

Take Jonas Agallon for example, he’s a nobody until some stuck up royal kills his brother, that sets him on his quest to become a somebody. But it’s almost too easy how his name is suddenly on everyone’s lips, not just the poor peasants of his native Paelsia, but literally everyone knows the name Jonas Agallon – even the kings. First and last name. Just because his brother died. For me, it would’ve been much more believable, and I’d been much more invested, if Jonas had to work at it, put some sweat equity into his name seeking justice for his brother before that name gets the kind of meaning everyone instantly associates it with. And that’s what I mean by conventional and unambitious, Rowen has a good plot figured out but the execution was just simple storytelling with the plot plowing ahead without much consideration for subtlety.

Speaking of subtlety, this is supposed to be a genre that excels with interpersonal relationships, and Falling Kingdoms… doesn’t. The characters themselves are fairly well crafted, Cleo the pampered princess trying to prove she’s more than just that, Jonas the victim of tragedy trying to get vengeance, Magnus the prince trying to survive in an unforgivingly harsh court, but… the interpersonal relationships are extremely straightforward. Every single relationship between every character and every other character is entirely simple, pick two characters, put them together and I know exactly how they feel about each other. Character interactions are a huge part of these books, but there’s just nothing of substance, no complexities between any of these characters, all their interactions are entirely predictable.

Otherwise, I will praise Rowen’s handling of the multiple points of view. For a story about multiple kingdoms, multiple personalities, multiple ways of life, I liked how each character brings something different to the table, so Cleo who’s mostly a good person can still be viewed evilly, or Jonas who’s vindictive to the point of singlemindedness gets some redeeming qualities (even if some of the points of view are repetitive to the point of yeah, I already get how you feel, like six chapters ago). And I liked how the mythology surrounding the magic’s incorporated into the story, there’s no expositionary information dump at the beginning, but the backstory’s built up over the course of the story and developed in a way that sets up the sequel. Easy to get into without requiring extensive lorekeeping.

Still, all of it wasn’t enough to really cover up how simple Falling Kingdoms struck me as. I suppose that’s not a problem for new readers of this genre, but I prefer something a little meatier.

Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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