Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is the author's first YA epic fantasy book. She also writes paranormal romance, urban fantasy and YA fantasy under the name Michelle Rowen. This is the first book of her's I've read and a copy was provided to me by Penguin Aus via NetGalley.

Falling Kingdoms is what I would call epic fantasy and others might call high fantasy or sword and sorcery. The YA element mainly comes across in the ages of the point of view characters (they're all 15 to 17) and the lack of sex scenes. I think it could be marketed either way (and obviously YA is a lucrative market at the moment), especially if there had been one slightly older character.

I'm afraid there's going to be some simplification of plot and setting in the following description because I'm in that sort of mood and because it can easily be simplified.

The story goes, there are three kingdoms sharing and island (which I presumed to be around the size of England + Scotland + Wales, but arranged slightly differently). One is prosperous, has a nice king and happy people. My favourite character, the Princess Cleiona, was the younger daughter of said nice king. On a trip with a couple of friends to buy wine from the poor kingdom, the young lord accompanying her kills the wine-seller's son, basically because the lord is a prat.

The dead boy's brother, Jonas, is the second point of view character. Understandably upset by his brother's death, he swears vengeance and runs around generally being hot-headed and angry. The boy's death also increases general unrest in the poor kingdom. Despite being poorly treated by their neighbours (being "forced" to grow wine for grapes instead of sensible food crops — quotation marks because no one actually head a knife to anyone's throat, merely agreed to only buy wine, and you'd think at some point food would seem more important than money) for a hundred years and living in increasing poverty for that time, it takes a random death to galvanise the people into action. I really didn't see why they didn't rebel against their oppressors sooner.

The third kingdom — which is coldest and has a cold-hearted king — sees the opportunity of unrest brewing and the king takes advantage of the situation. The point of view character is his son and heir, Magnus, with his daughter also an important character. I have to say, from the start when Magnus is introduced, he read like he would become evil. Near the start I honestly couldn't work out if I was meant to be on his side, or Jonas's or just Cleo's. There are perfectly understandable reasons for everything Magnus does, and nothing he does is particularly evil, but the way he's written, apart from a few scenes from his sister's point of view, suggests that he will be.

Of course the book culminates in war and one battle in particular, told from Jonas's point of view on the battleground. This was the section I had the most issues with. The battle wasn't particularly realistic. Jonas, who was a peasant at the start of the book, somehow managed to continuously fight for twelve hours (minus being unconscious for a bit), as did everyone else. And the knights, who were actually trained properly were growing weary while peasants, presumably also weary, still managed to keep fighting? I don't object to Jonas surviving the battle — he is a main character after all — but without eating? Without some sort of pause overnight people were still able to keep fighting enthusiastically. Also, there was a magical explosion (details removed because spoilers) which killed way more people that could plausibly have been in the blast/shrapnel radius.

That said, the battle was the main thing that bothered me. The other issues I discussed above were easier to ignore and didn't affect my enjoyment. Despite not being quite up to the depth of world building found in most of the fantasy I tend to read, Falling Kingdoms was surprisingly entertaining. I enjoyed it and I would categorise it as a fun read. It ended predictably without a final resolution and is presumably part of a trilogy. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading and I am keen to find out what happens to Cleo. And also Magnus's sister, who I'm hoping will come into her own more in future books.

I recommend this book to fans of fantasy who are looking for a light read, perhaps as a break from the heavier political intrigue of "adult" fantasy (at least, that's what I usually think of when I think of fantasy). YA readers who are interested in a taste of epic fantasy will also enjoy Falling Kingdoms. Young readers could do worse as far as introductions to the fantasy genre go.

4 / 5 stars
(It got a bonus 0.5 stars for it's enjoyable readability.)

4 comments:

  1. Yes, this unrealistic fight stuff turns up quite often in fantasy. And I bet Jonas wakes up from his unconscious state ready to fight on and without concussion? :-) and horses are furry machines? Well, teens won't notice. I know I didn't, when I read historical fiction by the likes of Frank Yerby, a wonderful writer who researched the big stuff and got the details wrong - not until I grew up and reread the books.

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  2. I think I've been a bit spoiled with having read a lot of good well-researched (*cough*Australian*/cough*) fantasy. Which then makes this sort of thing stand out. I didn't mention it in the review, but part of the rational for going to war was "we're jealous of their wealth" which misses some key nuances. But at least it was fun.

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  3. Nice review, I am excited to read it! :D

    Shaheen @ Speculating on SpecFic.

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  4. I'm super curious to see which characters you like in this one. It's definitely the sort of book where you have to really care about at least one of them.

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