Book Reviews 2015 · Fantasy Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘Falling Kingdoms’ by Morgan Rhodes

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.

4 Stars

I have been very excited to get around to this series for a while – everyone seems to love it! It was on my shelf for a month (which is no time at all around here) and once I had started it, I was equally eager to finish it as I was to start. Upon finishing, it has to be said that it wasn’t the perfection I envisaged it to be, but it is still a flipping good fantasy read that I would recommend to no end (although don’t buy a secondhand library copy if you have to pass through a scanner located in a silent room, which emits a loud beeping tone if it thinks you’re stealing a library book. This happened – twice in one day).

My first impression upon opening the book was relief at the ‘character cast’ list on the first page. One of the things that makes me fume with fantasies is when there are countless characters (most of which not significant at all) being name dropped every other line, making it impossible to keep track of them all. I found myself having to flick forwards to the handy list at the front on occasion, picking up who was who a lot quicker with its aid.

This is a pretty standard fantasy plot – three kingdoms warring over who deserves the throne. It isn’t winning any prizes for originality, but it is entertaining enough to carry it off. Our time is split between the prosperous kingdoms of Limeros and Auranos, and their poverty-affected neighbour Paelsia. The setting aspect was done very well – all three countries had a distinct sense of individuality, and there was a good deal of backstory to support their feud. I was particularly fond of the story of the two goddesses, Cleiona and Valoria, which differed depending on whether it was being told from an Auranian or a Limeran viewpoint. It is little factors such as these which give me a great appreciation of the world and the circumstances behind these kinds of stories.

The prologue of this book was one of the best I have read in a while. Featuring two magical sisters and their attempt to find a particular child, it caught me by surprise and hooked me from the very beginning. It was a great choice to set the scene with the magical elements straight away; magic is a feature which draws me in as a reader, so of course this prologue called to me! On the topic of the magic system, this first book gives a decent amount of information, but you will still feel slightly in the dark by the end, and so if you love the magical element (like me) you’ll be craving more from the next books.

I’m going to cover the characters and story in three sections: Auranian, Limeran and Paelsian, starting with Auranos. Our Auranian protagonist is Cleiona Bellos, second daughter of King Corvin. We first meet her and her intended, Aron, in a fantastic scene at a Paelsian market, which instigates the chain of events that runs through the book. This scene was the first of the series (bar the prologue) and it certainly succeeded at catching my attention – I wasn’t expecting that kind of drama so early on. On the character front, I’d say that Auranos was my favourite of the three locations in terms of the characters within it. Cleo did aggravate me quite a bit (as most heroines do) but on the whole, she did a better job than her Limeran and Paelsian counterparts – she didn’t let herself get forced into situations that didn’t suit her (even if she did get a tad petulant about it at times), she wasn’t cold and heartless, and she exhibited a well-rounded personality. Aron is vulgar – manipulative, selfish and cunning – but that is his whole purpose. Of course I hated him, but it’d be detrimental to the book if I didn’t! The secret that Cleo and Aron share is a recurring theme throughout the book, and it is drummed up to be something big. I suppose, contextually, it was a huge deal, but as a reader, I was disappointed by the revelation of this secret – it wasn’t nearly as good as I was expecting it to be. The background cast of characters seemed to be better constructed here than for any of the other two sets; King Corvin is not a cookie-cutter cunning king like his Limeran counterpart, but actually has multiple layers and feels believable, and Cleo’s sister Emilia made up for her predictable storyline by being wise, and actually offering some nice scenes and quotes rather than purely driving Cleo’s story. Meanwhile, Theon and Nic were my favourites of the bunch. They were both fantastic to read, albeit for different reasons; Nic was the funny and charming companion, and Theon was the mysterious obvious love interest. The pair of them formed a bit of a love triangle with Cleo, and I have to say that I could barely choose between them (which is quote possibly the first time that has happened for me in a love triangle situation). If I had to choose, I think Theon had the edge, but for once it didn’t matter to me. Overall, the chapters surrounding the Auranian characters were the ones I got through the quickest, and took the most enjoyment from.

Moving on to Limeros, where my feelings are slightly less pleasant. Firstly, I detested the two central characters, Lucia and Magnus Damora. Lucia was the typical pathetic and incompetent saviour who requires help from everyone to do anything, and yet still ends up saving them all. It’s a particular trope that gets on my nerves, and Lucia fell straight into the trap of being a weak female who, besides her being ‘the special one’, actually does nothing worthwhile for the majority of the book. Magnus was just as bad, but for different reasons, first and foremost his incestuous love for his little sister. Brother-sister relationships will forever in my head be seen as wrong. End of. I’m pretty sure many people have the same stance. *SPOILERS* However, I may have been able to overlook this and accept the story regardless, had it not been for the revelation that Lucia was not Magnus’s blood-related sister. It felt like the incestuous love was being justified by the fact that they were not ‘real’ siblings, despite the fact that they had been raised believing they were of the same flesh and blood. Of course it was necessary to the story for Lucia not to be a blood relative, but it felt like a cop-out for Magnus’s turmoil. If you ask me, in for a penny, in for a pound; don’t skate around it with a tacky excuse. *SPOILERS END* Besides this issue, Magnus was easily led on to follow his father’s cruel demands. Yes, he was intimidated to do so, but surely he had realised that he had overstepped the mark? The fact that he eventually takes a bit of enjoyment from following his father’s orders painted him as a masochistic and nasty person. I was a tad disappointed with Magnus, as I had heard loads about how brilliant he is, and I just couldn’t agree. The siblings aside, the Limeran focus falls on King Gaius Damora, their father. Gaius was a typical villain in a position of power – his actions were driven solely by bloodlust, status and the determination to make everyone’s lives difficult but his own. This was entertaining for a while, but by the end, it was plain predictable, conventional and a bit boring. The saving grace for Limeros was Sabina, the King’s mistress. She livened up the story and breathed life into otherwise lacklustre characters. Besides this, the Limeran chapters were readable, but lacked the charm that came with the Auranian ones.

Finally, we have Paelsia. The story surrounding this country was the best: a poverty-stricken band of people determined to restore their rights and get back onto level footing with the neighbours who take them for granted. However, the Paelsian protagonist, Jonas Agallon, was simply boring to read about. He was an incredibly angry character, driven for his hate of Auranos, Limeros, Cleo, Aron, the Kings, life… there was nothing that didn’t infuriate Jonas. This permanent state of anger became rather dull, within a matter of pages. So dull, in fact, that I had to check the character list in the front multiple times to clarify that Jonas was the main protagonist, not his brother Tomas, as I cared so little that I didn’t remember his name. So while I sympathised with the story of Paelsia, and actually connected with it more than the other two, it is a shame that the protagonist was so disagreeable.

*SPOILERS* In a high fantasy, deaths are inevitable, and they were certainly present in abundance. The only issue I had is that most of the characters I could tolerate died. The one that got me the most was Theon – I knew that he was going to be killed off, but I expected him to have at least one complete book in him! When it happened, it felt rather sudden – as death scenes go, not a bad thing, I just wanted him to have a few more miles on the clock! Sabina was another one I expected to go on for longer than she did; for someone who held the key to so much vital information, she had to go, but once again, 2/3 of the first book felt a little much. The book certainly didn’t scrooge on the deaths, with two in the first two chapters (well, the prologue and chapter one), which made for an enticing start, and I reckon the death in the prologue is the best of the lot, even if we had little to no time to connect with the character. I think what ruined the rest of the deaths a bit is that, while well executed and aptly written, they were all predictable deaths. As I previously mentioned, I expected Sabina and Theon to have a bit more longevity, but they were ultimately always going to go. The most obvious of all were King Corvin and Princess Emilia – they were conveniently shifted out of the way to make room for Cleo, which was a foregone conclusion from page one. I liked the death scenes, but maybe a curveball would have been good, rather than bumping off everyone who I could have told you would die from the beginning, all in 100 or so pages of each other. *SPOILERS END*

Overall, I was so drawn into the story that I will definitely be reading book two soon, however there are a few areas I want it to pick up on to truly stand out for me. Still, I recommend it!

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