Friday, December 14, 2012
Falling Kingdoms - Morgan Rhodes
Falling Kingdoms is a fantasy novel by Morgan Rhodes that's due for publication this month, Dec 2012. According to the book itself, at least, Morgan Rhodes is a pen name. A google search tells me that if you're a fan of Michelle Rowen, you might be a little more interested in this book than you thought.
Falling Kingdoms is the story of a land split into three kingdoms, where magic is real to some but not to others, and where a series of young people find themselves swept into politics and danger created before their time. Cleo is a young princess of a rich kingdom who watches in horror as a noble of her kingdom kills a boy from the poor kingdom next to them, without the power to speak up against it. When chaos breaks out between the kingdoms, she runs from her home seeking a cure for her sick sister and is forced into dangerous politics she wanted no part of. Magnus is the son of the king of a religious kingdom nearby, the king of blood, so known because he taxes his people into starvation and slaughters any who might be accused of witchcraft. To protect his beloved sister and make his father proud, Magnus is willing to do anything--he just hopes that in making his father proud, he doesn't hurt his sister in the process. Jonas is a poor boy in a poor kingdom, who watches as his beloved older brother is slaughtered in front of him by a noble of a kingdom which flaunts its wealth while his people starve. For revenge on nobility everywhere, he is willing to do almost anything. When rumors of war begin to break out over the kingdoms, he finds his chance to do so much closer than he had imagined.
This book is fascinating in many ways. At once it is both three separate stories while also being one huge interwoven fantasy, and the effect is amazing. There are so many different perspectives on every situation that it is incredibly difficult to figure out who the victims are and who tho villain is--if there is one at all. While one chapter has Jonas spewing vitriol and hate about how Cleo is a heartless noble, and even the reader can't deny that she has done wrong, the next will be about how heartbroken Cleo is about what happened, and how self-sacrificing she is in the name of helping her sister. I think my favorite part about this entire book was this sort of depth to the story--no matter how much one part makes you want to hate a character as a villain, the next section of the story gives you such a heartbreaking look into the motives of that villain that you can't hate them. As a reader, I found myself hating various side characters, but I couldn't not love every one of the main characters.
Another cool thing about this book was the way it looked at magic. In the kingdoms of this book, magic is either outlawed completely, and witches burned if they are suspected, or else it isn't believed in at all--despite the fact that it is very much real. It's so rare that it's barely remembered, thought of as a legend or a fairytale, yet there are still characters willing to risk everything for the very chance that it might be true.
My absolute favorite thing about this book, that I can't say too much about without spoiling a pivotal scene, is completely about the magic. Unlike in many other stories, where the entire plot is about seeking out some magic power that can save the world and usually does, magic isn't some godlike plot device where the main character finds some magic ring and is suddenly able to save the day. Even in a world with magic, like in Falling Kingdoms, there are no easy answers--and even magic can't make everything okay.
The last thing that really stands out about this book is how interwoven some of the lore and plot points are. A story will be mentioned, for instance, that is barely remembered by the reader--until suddenly, something about that story or fact or whatever is massively important, just waiting for the reader to pull everything together. I -love- books like this.
In fact, I really like this book a lot. I wouldn't say it's a new favorite, and I probably won't reread it constantly, but I could see myself reading it at least once more in the future. It's decent, it has a good story, and I'm going to look into the sequel when it comes out.
That being said, it's not perfect and there are some things that might turn a reader off. There are some squicky issues that I don't want to go too in depth with, because I'm not sure how much I might ruin for you. Nothing too bad, and nothing that terrible, but I know there are some readers who might really hate a certain character because of one of his major motives--so if you think you might be easily grossed out, specifically by anything of a incestuous nature, maybe give this book a pass.
My only real problem with the book is that it suffers from what I'm going to call 'sequel-itis', a common problem found in books that are coming out nowadays. The entire premise of Falling Kingdoms, as given by the first few chapters, is about a type of magic that must be found in order to save things. I won't say too much, but suffice to say that this magic is mentioned constantly, hinted at, discussed, and it's a huge thing. Yet, by the end of the story, the main characters have yet to even look at this magic. It has not been searched for, it has not been anything, it's just been SET UP for. This entire book literally could be read like nothing more than a set up for some magical awesome journey that I'm sure is going to be found in a sequel. And some people like that, so maybe that's not a bad thing for you, but I hate it. I won't go to much into why, because that's a rant for another post, but I have a problem with series that take one single plot and just stretch it out into two or three or five books so that you can't even get a conclusion to the very first story unless you're willing to pay for five books. I feel that if you're going to have a series, each book should have its own complete plot while the series collectively might have another overarching plot--like how the Harry Potter books each had a story of Harry saving the stone or Harry winning the tournament, and the overall series was about Harry defeating Voldemort.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Falling Kingdoms, and it doesn't have sequel-itis near as bad as some other books I've read recently...but at the same time, I felt very bereft and unhappy when I finished this book and there was no real conclusion. I would have rather had a good conclusion with such a good story that I wanted to buy a sequel on merit alone, rather than no conclusion and a need to buy a second book just to get the rest of the first story. But I digress.
I think that fans of Tamora Pierce's fantasy novels might really like this book, although it doesn't have as much magic as they might like. Fans who enjoy stories with semi-villains with motives they can relate to would also enjoy this book. I'd also recommend the book for fans of Game of Thrones, actually, who enjoy YA books. I haven't read much of Game, but from what I HAVE...well, they have a very similar, fantasy and political feel to them.