Falling Kingdoms: review

April 11, 2013 2013, 3 star books, Canadian, fantasy, K. 36

falling kingdoms morgan rhodes

Title: Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms #1)
Author: Morgan Rhodes
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Publisher: Razorbill
Age Group: YA
Source: Purchased

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.

36 Responses to “Falling Kingdoms: review”

  1. A Canadian Girl

    I’ve seen too many mixed reviews for this one and ended up deciding not to read it. I love fantasy, especially high fantasy, so I’m assuming I’ll fall under the more experienced reader category. Lol, at least I hope so.

    • K.

      Oh I’m sure you’re an experienced reader. You have a blog, for heaven’s sake! Haha!

  2. bebecald

    My boyfriend just read this book and loved it. I was planning on reading it later this year, and A Game of Thrones next month, but maybe I should switch. lol

  3. Michelle @ In Libris Veritas

    I’m really curious about this one because I love high fantasy. I was worried that it might be ‘narrow’ like you said, and you’re actually the first person to mention it. However I think if I can go into with the YA mindset then I should be fine. Really good review. :)

    • K.

      Well, I just meant that the things explored in the books aren’t quite as sweeping as you’d hope. Not like Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles, which I think is YA yet very mature and very rich in detail. Still a good one, though. Have no fear :)

  4. Sam

    I agree with you about the language! I was pleasantly surprised by this one overall though, as I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Still, having said that, I seem to have forgotten quite a bit of it since… I plan to read the sequel, so I hope it comes rushing back, ha. Great review, K!

    Have I ever told you that I love the way you write?

    • K.

      Actually, I would say I was slightly let down just because I’d read so many rave reviews from trusted GR friends. BUT I still had a good time. And yes, please let the sequel come. I’m excited enough for that!

      And you make me blush, Sam!

  5. Alexa Y.

    I love reading fantasy novels, so I’m going to go with giving this one a try! I was intrigued when I first heard about it, but was a bit wary of the reviews that came out around that time. Your review makes it seem pretty good. It might not be A Game of Thrones, but it sounds pretty diverting!

    • K.

      I’m glad I swayed you, Alexa! It is most definitely not GOT…maybe a watered, watered, watered, baby version of it…

  6. Amy

    I’m not big on fantasy, but this book does sound good. I have heard a lot of mixed reviews on it though so I’m not in any rush to get to it. Great review!

    • K.

      I love fantasy — as long as it’s written well. When fantasy goes wrong, I feel like the badness of the writing comes across doubly worse than if it had been contemporary, since there’s so much effort that goes into constructing the tale. I think this is one of the better ones, however, so try it Amy :)

    • K.

      Ooh, the unrequited love? I’m guessing you mean Magnus and Lucia? I confess I’m also intrigued. Can’t wait to see how she resolves that one! Haha!

  7. Janita @ Book, Interrupted

    Great review. It’s so true that there is a style of fantasy writing that you have to practice and learn. Awesome point. I’m really interested in reading this because I’ve heard it be called the YA Game of Thrones. While I don’t think that’s realistically possible (because GoT is the best thing since sliced bread), I do know where they’re coming from and I’m really excited to read!

    • K.

      I haven’t heard that one, actually. I suppose there are similar elements but I find these elements to be present in some form of other in all fantasy books :/ Is there any example in particular?

      But this isn’t in any way a bad book. So I hope you enjoy it, Janita!

  8. kelseylin5

    Its funny, I feel like there are some books that are so good that we feel too advanced for other books. That’s how I felt with this book. 16 year old me would have loved it… 24 year old me says mah, not bad, could be better.

  9. Liviania

    I agree with finding this one lacking. And some bits felt like Rhodes trying to push the envelope too obviously. You don’t need to throw in something shocking just for the GoT fans.

  10. Keertana

    As someone who loves fantasy, I’m glad I skipped out on this. I just know the restrictions and lack of characterization would bother me. :/ Lovely review, K!(:

    • K.

      Thank you, Keertana. Sometimes I feel bad when some authors are so good that they elevate our standards, which then sometimes prevents us from reading others :( Oh, the life of a reader, haha!

  11. Wendy Darling

    I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy, so while I was curious about this book I don’t think it’s quite for me. Thanks for the review, which definitely helped me make up my mind!

    • K.

      Why, you’re welcome, Wendy. Haha! Its a good book to pass the time. But if you skip it, I don’t think there’s anything too significant you’ll miss out on. Its just fun :)

  12. Molli Moran

    This is probably the most thorough and fair review I’ve read yet of this book. Everyone else raved about it but didn’t really give me any indication of any flaws. So YAY for character growth. Character growth means I will read it at some point. I just…I LOVE seeing characters change for the better. I also love fantasy of all types, especially high fantasy. It’s too bad this one feels at times like the author was trying a bit too hard, but gah. I’m really looking forward to this one now. :)

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

    • K.

      Thank you, Molli :) Maybe those reviewers didn’t find anything to complain about…? Give this a try. It might very well be all you want :) Enjoy!

  13. starryeyedjen

    I agree, narrow is a very apt description. I never felt fully invested in the story or the characters. There was just something lacking. It was entertaining…just not as much as I’d hoped it would be.

    • K.

      I think the more books you’ve read, the more experience you have with quality storytelling, then you’ll find this lacking. And I’m not quite as emotionally attached to these characters yet but let’s see :)

  14. Stephanie Sinclair

    I did enjoy this one quite a bit, but was turned off initially by the beginning. I could not relate to Cleo and found her very irritating. The good thing is, I do see potential with this series, mostly proven by the second half of the book. I think out of all the characters it’s Magnus and Lucia I’m most interested in. Great review, K.!

    • K.

      Oh wow, Stephanie. I actually find Cleo and Jonas much more engaging. Although I aslo really like Magnus. No matter how screwed he is in his situation :( I wish book 2 was right in front of me.

  15. Mary @ BookSwarm

    “Narrow” — that’s a great description. Really, I wasn’t a fan because there was way too much head-hopping and I didn’t like the faux-sibling lust thing or a couple of the characters but this story had so much potential! Sadly, it just fell flat for me. Love the cover, though!

    • K.

      I liked it enough to continue. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much, Mary. And I’m not sure how Rhodes is going to handle that partiular romantic relationship. Its delicate as it is but there doesn’t seem to be hope of reciprocation.

    • K.

      Yes, it has potential. Now let’s hope the books get better and better from here :)