Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Title:  Falling Kingdoms
Series:  Book 1 of Falling Kingdoms

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:

Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished—and finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past—and the supernatural le gacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son 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?

Unless you have not heard of this book at all, it's hard to escape hearing it billed as "Game of Thrones for Young Adults."  I should really know better by now that when a publisher says "Book is the next Famous Book, just like Hugely Famous Book!" they are going to be horrible wrong.  Does that mean that Fallen Kingdoms is bad?  Absolutely not.

While it lacks the epic scope and of Martin's massive saga, Falling Kingdoms doesn't fall completely on its face.  The growing conflicts among the three nations are clearly explained, setting the stage for the main drama.  The characters are distinct from one another - even if their narrative voices are not - and their motivations mostly make sense.

There is enough action throughout the story to keep a reader turning the pages, if not with enthusiasm, at least with curiosity.  The plot progresses steadily and ramps up just as it should to the final conflict.  The book even ends with a not-quite-cliffhanger, setting the stage for the sequel(s).

So far, so good.  Yet I'd have a hart time wholeheartedly recommending this book to anyone.  Again:  this is not a bad book.  It's just a shallow book. 

The characters start out largely what they'll be by the end of the book.  Their development, such as it is, is so loudly foreshadowed that nothing really comes as a surprise.  The small changes in their arcs do not drive any emotional relationship between the characters and the reader, and it's incredibly hard to invest in a book when you aren't bonded to anyone in the pages. 

This shallowness seeps into the world-building as well.  The three countries are defined, their problems are delineated and the stage is set for the main conflict.  And then we never hear anything more about the places.  It doesn't ever really feel like a real place, just a painted backdrop where the characters can act out their little dramas.

Finally, there is the plot.  Here is it:  rival kings find reasons to go to war that affect the lives of four young people.  I understand this is not War and Peace; it's not even trying to be.  But once again, the abrupt and generic nature of the plot doesn't do much to grab a reader's attention and hold it. 

And, hey, it can't be a young adult novel without some sort of romance shoved into the pages somewhere, right?  Alas, the only real romance in this book is hardly the stuff of legend and ends abruptly for the sake of the generic plot.  Hooray.

I know I've done a lot of ragging on this book in this review, but it's NOT BAD.  I just think the genre has more to offer then this.  If you feel like reading it, go ahead.  Just don't expect fireworks.
2.5 out of 5 stars.

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