Fantasy Review: ‘Falling Kingdoms’ by Morgan Rhodes

When I read YA novels I read them from my own enjoyment perspective.  I give no thought to how they would work for a younger audience, and there is plenty of YA that proves I don’t have to.  Pratchett, Valente, and Westerfeld have all given series that I enjoy as much as any “adult” fantasy fiction.  For about three quarters of ‘Fallen Kingdoms’ I hoped I had found another to add to my list.

‘Falling Kingdoms’ revolves around four teenagers and three kingdoms.  An outing into neighboring Paelsia by Princess Cleo and friends ends in a death of a local.  A long running, but fragile, peace is now threatened.  The brother of the slain man wants vengeance and looks to Paelsia’s leadership for help.  The northern kingdom smells blood, led by a despot king with a secret weapon in a daughter who may hold the key to magic.  And Cleo looks for a way to cure her sick sister while grappling with guilt over the murder she was present for.

Despite being an all teen cast, the characters worked fairly well, despite being fairly simplistic.  Cleo wants to please, is constantly racked by guilt, and of course will find inner strength.  Commoner Jonas is single minded in his revenge quest, but starts to realize he is being played by those whose goals he thinks are the same as his.  Magnus, heir to the northern kingdom starts off as an interesting character.  Ashamed of his feelings for his sister, and slightly repulsed by his tyrant father’s actions, he is the most complete character by far (until the personality shift he goes through at the end, anyway).

A fast paced plot acts like a simpler version of so many political fantasies.  The southern kingdom has thrived by smart trade agreements, the northern kingdom works toward its goals through military alliances.  Paelsia in the middle is more pawn than power.  Being YA, don’t expect the complexity of ‘Game of Thrones,’ betrayals and twists won’t come as a surprise to most readers.  I expect most readers would know this going in though, and the plot is entertaining enough in its simplicity.

The creeping of magic back into the world makes for an interesting subplot, but while it is used toward the end of the book, it is obviously more important as set up for the rest of the series.  There is also a backstory of mysterious watchers that has zero conclusion, for it is obvious sequel fodder.

My issues with the book came in the last quarter.  All the things that current YA fantasy is mocked for shows up.  A sudden realization of TRUE LOVE is found.  True love is wrecked by tragedy, but someone will go stronger because of it.  Teen angst hits fully, with lines like “Then his heart, now broken into a thousand pieces, slowly began to turn to ice.”  Several characters had sudden personality changes.  The ice queen mother grows a heart, and complex Magnus becomes one dimensional.  True, Cleo and Jonas both grow as characters, but in the most cliche way possible.

The book is the first of a series, and as such ends on something of a cliffhanger.

3 stars.  I cannot say I wasn’t entertained by most of the book, but it isn’t a young adult book that held up to adult reading all that well.  I doubt I will be looking for the sequel.

Note: I received my copy of this book through a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway.  Morgan Rhodes is the pseudonym of Michelle Rowen

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