Author: Morgan Rhodes
Release: December 11th 2012
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, YA
#1 in the Falling Kingdoms series
Sequels: Rebel Spring (#2), Gathering Darkness (#3), Frozen Tides (#4), Crystal Storm (#5), Untitled (#6)
It's the eve of war ... Choose your side.
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:
PRINCESS: Raised in pampered luxury, Cleo must now embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of magic long thought extinct.
REBEL: Jonas, enraged at injustice, lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country cruelly impoverished. To his shock, he finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.
SORCERESS: Lucia, adopted at birth into a royal family, discovers the truth about her past — and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.
HEIR: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, firstborn son Magnus 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?
I am a hundred percent sure this could have been up to four stars had I read this book at any other time than right now. Alas, as it is, I was not able to enjoy this book to the fullest, but luckily for me, it was still decent enough.
The main reason why this wasn't the perfect time was, for one, having just read The Ring and the Crown a few weeks ago, I was tired of the whole princess falls in love with her knight trope, one I incidentally have never particularly liked much in the first place. Secondly, after having read Forbidden not long ago, I was also a little annoyed by the (supposedly) incestuous relationship, that was probably the most unnecessary trope to use, since the matter of Lucia's birth is something that everyone already saw through right at the beginning. It's mentioned in the freaking blurb, for God's sake! And Rhodes seriously pulls this out as some kind of big reveal around page 200? Really?
Those were my two major complaints, but the silliness does not stop there, oh no. I'll say that it's truly only the second half that saved this book from being a complete waste of time, as the first one, while never being directly boring or lame, was extremely uneventful, fishy and ridiculous. I have even gone to the trouble of making a list, of actually taking my little notepad by my bedside, my pen and write down things that irritated me. I will cross off that list now:
• The reason this whole war even starts in the first place. It's the most unrealistic, absurd reason ever. And this comes from me, me, who is the absolute last person to complain when something isn't exactly adding up, especially in fantasy, and will usually roll with anything as long as it's giving me a good ride. I have trouble believing that the death of an unimportant wineseller's son at the hands of some unimportant royal would really bring about a big war after centuries of peace. If they had been even the least bit important to anyone, if it had been the princess herself slitting some sort of ambassador's son's throat or something, alright, but ... honestly? No. WW1 was started by an archduke's assassination, not the murder of a simple vintner's son!
• Which brings me to my next point: Jonas' vengeance ambition. He's mainly out for the princess' blood, and while he surely wouldn't mind slitting Aron's throat, too, he's focusing on Cleo. On Cleo. Not Aron, who is the actual murderer of his brother, the one who actually stuck the dagger into his brother's throat, but ohhh no, he's out for the princess who stood beside him while it all happened. Simply because she didn't stop him. Since she obviously had so much power to do so, I mean, right? No. Wrong. This was ridiculous, utterly ridiculous and it really drove me mad the whole time. It's like sending a girl home from prom because the dads couldn't keep it in their pants, even though the girl herself did nothing wrong.
• There was one scene, again absolutely hilarious, where Jonas gets the chance to finally fulfill his dreams and slit Cleo's throat. He doesn't do it, though! He first goes on a two-hour ride (four, since it's a two-way trip) to consult with his boss whether that would sit okay with him if he just, you know, went ahead and beheaded this cute little girl there. Riiiight!
• Cleo is traipsing around enemy territory while war is at the ready, of course she's captured. But worry not! Two of her friends team up and one of them knows exactly where she's being held. It was just a hunch of his, modest guy, but he confirmed it seeing as he is so stealthy and sneaky, he could totally just sneak up to the place where Cleo's being held, — guarded at all times, duh — get a quick glimpse into it to see that it's really her there, and get safely away to report back and thus, start the rescue mission. Riiiight!
Well, the next things I have on my rant list are a bit spoilery, but I can sum them up and apply them to the general:
1) Cleo is a complete fucking idiot. She is being told by all these royals that she's just a naive, stupid little girl and they are absolutely right. The whole time it seemed that Rhodes was trying way too hard to make the reader like her and as a result, she appeared to me as a holier-than-thou perfect doll, and Rhodes tried to give her some kind of battle armor and make her seem strong, but in the end, she utterly failed to do that. Yes, by the end I did take a liking to her and I am very, very eager to see where her character arc is going to go in the sequel, because I do see the potential this character has; Cleo could actually become a strong and kickass heroine in due time, but I have my doubts. Anyway, while there's still hope for her, in this first installment she really did not make the best impression, bumbling moron that she is.
2) The world-building. Wait, what world-building? Oh, right, there is none. The book starts off with a list of characters that was almost unnecessary and simply tried to mimic A Song of Ice and Fire, where the cast of important characters is actually vast enough to merit a character index, but it just made this novel seem whimsical for trying to be as great. Anyways, there are these three countries that don't get along too well, there's been some background history with some goddesses and stuff, but I still don't really have any rough idea of what they're all about? What about culture, language, traditions ... ?
3) Just as absent, or almost absent, is character development. Aside from Magnus, there really is not much going on in terms of fleshing characters out or anything. I feel like he is truly the only one of whom we ever saw another side than what we're always being shown, otherwise, the remaining three characters were just bland. Plain, uninteresting and boring.
4) The relationships were laughable. Aside from Cleo and her father's relationship, as well as Magnus and his father's, none of them were fleshed out either, which made any and all character deaths ludicrous, since I couldn't empathize with the characters' grief, not to mention that one heavy case of insta-love between Cleo and her knight. Blech. It was more than just awful.
Anyways, in the end, I still have to hand it to Rhodes that the novel was amusing and entertaining for the most part, although some parts in the beginning were quite boring and it starts to really stretch thin around the middle, however, the end climax makes up for it and is well done. I have high hopes for the sequel now, I really hope that I won't be disappointed. Another thing I'll gladly give her is that she does none of that "just kidding that character isn't actually dead" silliness, which was a RELIEF. I cannot tell you how much I loathe those "plot twists", I mean I could still be wrong and she'll whip up some character that died in this book in the sequel, but I have a feeling she'll stick to it. These deaths are final, and as much as it might hurt (although it really didn't in this one since I don't know any of these characters, really), what's dead should simply stay dead.
My final judgment is that Falling Kingdoms is a novel that could potentially test your patience, but if you can weather through the nonsensical shenanigans of the first half, you will be rewarded for your valiant efforts. As I said, I'm expecting the sequel to be a lot better, but we'll see. For now though, I don't regret picking this series up. Yet. Although, to be honest, reflecting all of this ... I don't think this would have been more than three stars even had I picked it up at a later time.