When I first heard of Falling Kingdoms, it's safe to say that I was excited. It was marketed as having everything that usually appeals to me in books:When I first heard of Falling Kingdoms, it's safe to say that I was excited. It was marketed as having everything that usually appeals to me in books: a high fantasy, complex personalities, and strong female characters, not to mention a gorgeous cover that reminded me a lot of Assassin's Creed. The blurb on the back cover touts the series as being comparable to George R.R. Martin's work, and that's a pretty bold claim to make; if you can measure up to one of the masters of fantasy, then you are certainly set with a solid series. If not, however, it can all go awry, especially seeing as how a lot of the marketing for Falling Kingdoms seems to be touting it as A Song of Ice and Fire for the teenage set.
Still, I didn't have too many reservations about the series, and went into the first few pages with baited breath and much excitement, ready to have a new set of characters to flail over. Unfortunately, the first half of the book isn't very promising, and the comparison to A Song of Ice and Fire does more to harm the series than to help it. The similarities are striking, and I'm not sure if they're intentional, but they're initially a bit hindering, as they make Rhodes seem like a writer who took the easy route out by simply dumping parallels to the former into her book.
Let's run down the list, shall we? There are multiple point of views, although only four of them are key to the heart of the tale. Rhodes attempts to echo one Martin's most prevalent themes: no character is truly good or bad, everyone is morally grey with the exception of a few truly evil individuals. For the most part, she accomplishes this, although a good portion of the book is spent wondering if these are simply the reflections of extreme teenage anger and woe-is-me angst, a phase of life that the characters may soon be over. There's a (one-sided) tale of incest that is key to one of the character's development throughout the story, and which is sure to play a larger part in the books to come. Rebellion is stirring, and war looms on the horizon for the three kingdoms. Finally, there are some of the names: Theon, Emilia, and Magnus. I don't know if this was just a coincidence, but having some characters who have the same names as one from aSoIaF, a key actor in the adaptation, and one from another YA fantasy series that is wildly popular (The Mortal Instruments) was a bit off-putting. Whenever these characters appeared, I had a hard time not picturing them as their probable namesakes. The exception was Magnus, but only because he was a main character whose chapters allowed him to flesh out.
With that in mind, the first half of a book is a bit of a mess. The prologue starts off interestingly enough, and it seems like everything is going to happen at a fast pace. Indeed, within the first few chapters, we have the event that sets the rest of the book into motion. While on a visit to the middle kingdom of Paelsia with her court entourage, Cleo's betrothed, Aron, kills a wine seller's son after haggling over the pricing. Although the princess and her friends escape with their lives, this causes an uproar throughout the three kingdoms. Jonas, whose brother was murdered by Aron, finds a way to tunnel his rage by helping to lead an uprising by the indolent leaders of Paelsia. The kingdom of Limeros, which has been waiting for years for the opportunity to go to war with Auranos, joins forces with Paelsia to crush their more prosperous neighbor.
With such intrigue going on, one would think that the book would move quickly, but after the first few chapters, things move slowly for a while as we are introduced to the intricacy of the characters's minds. There are certainly some interesting developments, but nothing that warrants excitement or makes you want to turn the pages in fascination. Cleo, princess of Auranos, doesn't do much to defy the stereotype of a spoiled and royal brat. Jonas, one of the few "commoners", just seems to be perpetually angry and driven by little else. And Magnus, royal prince of Limeros, is a broody personality who harbors a torch for his sister Lucia (although she's not really his sister, but an adopted sorceress [not that Magnus is initially aware of this]). Rhodes tries to show us that they are all morally grey individuals, but the only character she truly succeeds with is Magnus. He was the first character that I brought myself to care about, and although his role as a sulking royal prince is quite cliché, the care and development put into his chapters is so much more profound than the rest that you can't help but care for him and hope that he'll succeed.
Indeed, much of the book is more about telling than showing. There are history dumps about the gods and goddesses, and characters bursting out into apologetic soliloquies while being attacked. The former is a bit of a snooze-fest that makes your eyes blur through afternoon tea sessions, and the latter just feels bizarre and out-of-place in context. The evil king of Limeros, Gaius, is surely meant to frighten us with how vile and cruel he is. But when he describes how he would torture a kitchen maid, it doesn't bring any chills; rather, it's a bit boring how menacing he's supposed to be, and the constant reminders that we're given about how heartless he is are just plain boring.
Given how disappointing the first half of this book is, it's easy to put it aside and forget about it. That's actually what I ended up doing, and let it sit on my desk for four months while I read other things and got preoccupied with university life. The last half of the book, however, redeems any tediousness that you might have felt, and it's the last quarter of Falling Kingdoms that is a real treat. The potential for new relationships and plot developments are set up, and the title of the book finally comes into play. The characters are finally maturing and becoming more than cardboard cutouts, and the main three become beloved to you. Despite their opposing sides, you find yourself rooting for all of them and wanting them to achieve their goals. The non-stop action and sense of frenzy that's diffused throughout heightens the excitement and makes the pages fly by, leaving you on the edge of your seat and desperate for more as you turn the last page. The entire book is rather predictable, but that doesn't make it any less fun. The last few chapters are wonderfully written, and the last lines gave me shivers of anticipation for the next installment.
Overall, Falling Kingdoms doesn't quite live up to what it should be, but don't let the initial dryness turn you off, as it can be interpreted as Rhodes setting up the world of the series. Patience for the last half of the book really pays off, for an entertaining spectacle awaits. I loved seeing the characters finally take charge of their own lives and come into their own. Whether it was becoming a stronger woman, a perceptive rebel, or a scowling prince, the journey that the main characters went through was a joy to read. I'll certainly be looking for the next one, and personally can't wait until it comes out.