Title: Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1)
Author: Morgan Rhodes
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Age Group: YA
Falling Kingdoms is a high fantasy about Mytica, a continent on the verge of a war, drawing with it the fates of four young people into chaos and tragedy. The synopsis, while not entirely unique, is intriguing. It seems to promise all the staples of a good fantasy novel: heroes, princesses, politics, magic, romance, death. And all of this it delivers…on a young adult level.
Morgan Rhodes’ tale tells of Cleo, Jonas, Magnus, and Lucia and the destinies they are called forth to fulfill as their land teeters on the bloody edge of conflict and grapples with menacing want-to-be-kings, sly sorcerers, and an ancient magic long lost. The world building is convincing enough. The map, the descriptions, the names, they all work to compel a reader to believe. Rhodes provides history, folklore, climate, culture, and civil struggle to make each country solid. That is laying the groundwork after all. A badly built fantastical universe risks too many questions to make the rest of the story digestible. But Rhodes succeeds in that each place stands individual.
As do the characters. Cleo, the privileged, rashly fierce yet genuine young princess; Jonas, the grief-stricken, angry, damnedly determined rebel; Magnus, the dark, unloved, misunderstood and dangerous prince; and his sister Lucia, the beautiful, the soft, the innocent. They are written to be as distinct from each other as the colors of the rainbow.
Some, however, shine just a little brighter…though that might have something to do with page time. Cleo and Jonas come off as central characters, while Magnus and Lucia as secondary central characters, if there is any sense in that. Perhaps it is that Cleo and Jonas’ personal fight has much more at stake; their own doom much darker. The path of these two characters’ growth is tangible. Cleo reins in her childish boldness and softens her impulsivity, shaping these qualities into a resolute, unwavering courage. Jonas, acting upon fresh grief and a relentless hunger for justice, is able to open his eyes when needed. He grows to see beyond his sorrow to understand the trouble at hand. They mature. And we see it.
Oh, this praise. Yes, Falling Kingdoms is surprising and satisfying. But it has its limits. The story, so concentrated on the goings-on in the lives of these four young protagonists, does not expand much. While they do battle with sorcery and war, while they do undertake grand ambitions such as searching for ancient magic and forming revolutionary groups to overthrow a tyrant king, the storylines still feel very…narrow.
Which is why I think younger readers will be even more impressed. The more experienced reader you are, the more likely you’ll feel the limitations. The plot is simple and straightforward. It isn’t very introspective. But it was perhaps the language that needed the most development. In fantasy, there needs to be a certain sophistication in diction. But from the set up of scenes to dialogue, I could almost feel Rhodes trying to write high fantasy. The language didn’t yet feel natural. Organic. This is still an attempt. Which is totally fine! This is her first high fantasy novel after all, and she found herself on the New York Times Bestsellers List.
Overall, Falling Kingdoms is success enough that I am most certainly interested in the futures of Cleo, Jonas, Magnus, and Lucia. And Mytica. I keep harping on about how it was so good…on a ya level. Then I hit myself in the head, reminding my little brain that this is, in fact, a ya novel. Grieve. Game of Thrones has ruined me.
This review also appears on Goodreads.