Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes



Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
Rating: A high-fantasy couldabin, shouldabin that failed to grab me. Also there’s incest. Sort of.

 
 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 legacy 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?

Here's the deal. There are three countries: austere, religious Limeros to north, impoverished Paelsia in between, and affluent, temperate Auranos to the south. Limeros and Auranos hate each other and the Paelsian peasants kind of hate everyone, because they are all really poor, even though they produce magical wine that all the supposedly hedonistc Auranians want to buy. One day the Auranian princess Cleo goes to Paelsia to buy said wine and A Bad Thing happens that sparks all sort of other Bad Things. Magic is dead, there are creepy Watcher people trying to find it, and there's political tension galore.

This could have been a great high fantasy, Game of Thrones-eque adventure. It's everything I want in a book. Warring kingdoms? Check! Evil "Kings of Blood"? Check! Dark and dangerous magic and forbidden romance? Double check! But sadly, Falling Kingdoms fell short for me in so many ways.

The beginning was slow. While I enjoy epic, third-person, multiple-protag narratives, this one just didn't captivate me. And the romance… oh, god, I hate to say this, but a lot of it is totally squicky. Magnus is in love with his sister and Princess Emilia was in a love with a man her father’s age. I cannot ship that, guys. And I need a couple to dock my ship to. I need safe shipping harbors! We as the readers are fully aware Lucia is not Magnus’ real sister, but MAGNUS DOESN’T. He spends a whole lot of time lusting after his own sister, who is so beautiful he just can’t help himself. Yes, I know he fights down these repellent vomitous loin-killing unfortunate feelings, which adds some level of broody, tortured depth to his character, but I can only handle so much. And they, like, touch each other’s faces. A lot. My brother and I barely even shake each other’s hands.


The other love connections, while less likely to make me ill, really hold no swoon-factor, either. There is a distressingly tiny amount of kissing, which is not something I necessarily require in high fantasy, but definitely something I prefer. Romantic connections in this book are based mostly on appreciation of beauty. Most of the characters are surface-based and lack any integrity that I could connect to. Everybody has flawless skin, brightly colored eyes, and thick, glossy hair. Princess Lucia is the single most beautiful dark-haired girl in Limeros. Princess Cleo is the single most beautiful golden-haired girl in Auranos. Every male around is in love with them due to their supreme levels of unmatched sexiness. Yawn.

As POV characters go, snooze-worthy Chosen One Lucia is by far the weakest, while I’d say Cleo is definitely the strongest, because at least she’s got some fire. She is a total idiot half the time, making appalling decisions and thrusting off into danger without one sliver of a rational plan, but at least she felt alive. She goes from disregarding magic as pure myth to believing in it with all her heart awfully fast, but I understood her motives.

Despite his tragedies, I felt nothing for Jonas, a cardboard cliché of a rebellious peasant. And while I felt for brooding, suffering, changeable Magnus– he hates his evil father, he loves his evil father, he’s becoming his evil father– I also wanted to shake him and tell him, “Dude, I get you are conflicted because your sister is hot and your evil father is a DOUCHUS MAGNIFICUS, but get over it already.”

Cleo's connection with Theon, the hunky palace guard chosen to protect her, was probably my favorite, even though it is total insta-love but at least they are not FAMILY my GOD. But because I truly did like Cleo as a character, I felt her emotions very strongly, causing me to become more invested in their relationship than the text itself warranted. Cleo’s best friend Nic, also besotted by her super-duper hotness, is probably the most vivid character of the bunch, and he’s only a member of the supporting cast.

But I think that was my key issue with this book– I just didn’t connect. The characters said all the things they should, did all the things I would expect from their respective tropes (Chosen One/ Dark Tortured Soul/Spoiled, Fiery Princess/Loyal Guard in love with his charge/Rebellious Peasant). But they weren’t three dimensional to me.

 

The mythology is probably the most interesting part of Falling Kingdoms, even if it didn’t feel terribly original. The kingdoms are falling apart due to the disappearance of The Kindred, four sacred crystals (cliché, I know) that hold the power of elementia, or magic of the elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Magic is disappearing from the land and all is going to pot, basically. I liked the way the vitality of the earth was tied to magic and I liked the accompanying folklore, even if I’m pretty much over MacGuffin crystals.

I also found some logic holes I could not get past. The economic relationship between the three kingdoms didn’t entirely make sense. People wander around Paelsia very easily, apparently traversing the entire thing in a matter of hours. I couldn’t get a grasp on whether people believed in magic or not. They sort of believed a little bit in some cases and completely in others. A mysterious figure very conveniently turns out to be someone of magical import another character has been desperately searching for.

The writing was just kind of there. Grief flashes in people’s eyes a lot, revenge darkens people’s gazes. Hardly offensive, but not particularly beautiful.

This was a total miss for me, unfortunately. I can see why people like it. The dynamics of the three battling kingdoms was totally interesting. I liked the plot, even if the pacing was problematic. I did like the political scheming and despotism and whatnot. I enjoyed the way all the various storylines came together at the end. Obviously I had issues with a lot of the world building, but I did love the way she described the various kingdoms. I could picture them perfectly. Also, MAGIC WINE. That is exceptionally cool.

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Here's a link to a favorable review from someone whose opinion I trust, to prove that all hope isn't lost for this book and it's very likely I'm a big grumpapotamus and my opinions are always to be taken with a boulder grain of salt.

18 comments:

  1. This definitely sounds like it is not the book for me. Your review, however, is just the thing for this Wednesday morning. Fabulous!

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    1. Haha thank you! I think I must be feeling the Wednesday blues as well. A lot of people really love this book, so who knows? You might like it.

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  2. Incest-y? Ew. Even if they're not ~actually~ related, that really squicks me out. I'm also an anime watcher, and this whole "kind-of incest" thing is a really big trend in that, and it's terrible. I hope it isn't spreading to other mediums, though this is the first time I've heard of it popping up in YA (then again, I only pay attention to a small percentage of YA).
    In conclusion: Ew.

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    1. Yeah, I just could not get past it. Some people I know could, because they're not actually related and the character was fighting so hard against it, but I just couldn't, especially since I found little else in the book to make up for it. It just wasn't for me.

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  3. Aw so sad it fell short for you. I wanted to read this but with the things you described I probably won't like them either :S
    And yes, incest-y that is not....why?! Ugh. No, just no.

    I love all your gifs they say sooo much xD

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    1. Thanks! :D I love gifs. I cannot help myself. But yeah... incest is hard for me to overcome. A lot of people loved this book, so you may want to check it out, in case you do too.

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  4. Random fact about me: I LOVE rant reviews. They're my fave! And yours cracked me up (douchus magnificus, tee hee!). So naturally, you have a new follower who will probably be stalking your reviews from now on. ;)

    So, I have been DYING to get my hands on this one...now, maybe not so much. I have a very long list of pet peeves in a book, two being (as you said) squicky romances and shallow characters. The whole brother-sister romance sounds really disturbing and I'm not even going to think about that, but the other one with lack of kissing might not be so bad for me. Anymore I tend to gag when there's too much lovey dovey crap. Light romance sounds good.
    I'm so, SO sick of books with perfect characters that everyone pines for. That part would really irritate me. I'm more of a fan of the underdog, personally.
    Four stones, er I mean crystals for the four elements? Easy, Fifth Element. May not be too original, but it kind of excites me because that's my favorite movie. :D
    But hey, on the bright side...magic wine sounds awesome.

    I was going to snag this one in the next month, but I may wait now. I tend to be a grumpapotamus too (hee hee!), so I'd probably have many of the same feelings about this one. Very entertaining review!! <3

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    1. I admit to a soft spot for ranty reviews too. I kind of love to write them because I'm a mean, snarky person. Glad I cracked you up! Thanks for the follow, fellow grumpapotamus!

      Again, lots of people found things to love here, even if it just didn't work for me. Might as well make your own opinion, because you'll either get a great read out of it or a great ranty review! And FIFTH ELEMENT. OMG. Yes. Best movie ever.

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  5. Haha Hey! <3 Thank you for linking my review and I love that you love my reviews haha!

    Anyway, I also love rant reviews. The longest reviews I ever write are my negative ones because I just go on and on with my dislike of certain aspects of the novel. My Everlost by Neal Shusterman review apparently got a lot of laughs because of that. It almost makes you feel ebtter to write entertaining rant reviews instead of serious negative ones to avoid being offensive.

    Anyway, this is a SUPER polarizing book, so it's not meant for everyone. Example: we're one of the few people who really enjoyed THRONE OF GLASS. For the most part we line up with similar interests, but this one is just one of those ones that falls short for one of us. And another high fantasy that I thought I'd love, Prophecy by Ellen Oh, was just... okay. So it makes me curious to see what you think since high fantasies can tear even the most similar of readers apart ;) haha

    I totally think we have to just go on high fantasy kicks and see how our opinions are the same or different because of how different we were with this one but so alike we were with THRONE OF GLASS. That'd be epic.

    Anyway, I totally respect your opinion and where you came from with a lot of your arguments (but I must admit that I can't wait to see what you think of THE SWEETEST SPELL! <3 So. Damn. Cute.) Can't wait to see what other reviews you have in store for us! (Might they be some fairy or angel books? hmmmm...)

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    1. I've got Prophecy on my list. I've heard mixed things about it too. I always think its interesting to see where people of pretty similar tastes differ, especially in high fantasy. And yes! I second the idea of a high fantasy kick. So weird how we totally lined up for ToG but clearly DID NOT for Falling Kingdoms. And I'm planning to read The Sweetest Spell on my cross-country plane trip next week! Can't WAIT. I need something cute to read after all these books with pain and suffering.

      And I agree on rant reviews. It's probably mean of me, but I just love reading them (not to mention writing them... clearly).

      And OH BOY, do I have a lot of fairy and angel books to review! Wonder where I got all of those...?

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    2. I am e-mailing you. We are making this kick happen, I am telling you!

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  6. Eeee, I liked this review! I'll probably still read FALLING KINGDOMS, because I'm stubborn like that, but thank you for giving me a heads up on the problem areas. Also, your GIFs made me giggle.

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    1. Glad to make you giggle! And do read it. I want to see if you fall into the positive camp or the negative one!

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  7. I've been drooling over this book ever since it came under my radar.. A lot of people seemed not to like it too much but I can't it, I'm gaga over this one! great review BTW.. Thumbs up!:)

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  8. Loved this review!
    I have been thinking about picking this one up, but now I'm not as likely to run off
    and purchase it right away.
    Being able to connect with the characters is a HUGE part of why I read books.
    I have a feeling I will agree with how you felt about this book...
    So, it will have to wait!

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  9. I already ordered this one from TBD.. I couldn't resist it even though the reviews I've read don't really rate it highly.

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  10. I have heard some ups and downs about this one. But there is still something about it that makes me want to read it. I love reading your reviews, by the way. And I like going into a book knowing what to expect.

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  11. I tried to read the Falling Kingdoms, I read the incest part and called no BRANO. I was reading it thinking, "WTF is going on HERE"!? Of course I just figured out now that Jonas and his so called hot sister aren't even related, thank god. That disturbed me so much I shunned the book series forever.

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