Falling Kingdoms is a fantasy book series for young adults by Morgan Rhodes.It follows the lives of four teenagers, Princess Cleo, Prince Magnus, Princess Lucia, and Jonas (the wine sellers son) as they, and others, navigate through increasingly dangerous political, personal and mythical situations. This review will focus on the first three books in the series – Falling Kingdoms, Rebel Spring and Gathering Darkness. I will be reviewing the latter three books in a future review.
While I enjoyed Falling Kingdoms, Rebel Spring and Gathering Darkness, I am sad to say that overall, I found them to be lacking. The character development felt quite forced and artificial, the relationships so “black and white”, so clear-cut that they too felt forcefully constructed, and the world-building was really just lacking – sometimes it was there, and other times Rhodes seemed to just forget about it.
Falling Kingdoms (Book 1)
“War brought them together. Love will tear them apart.”
Princess Cleo of Mytica confronts violence for the first time in her life when a shocking murder sets her kingdom on a path to collapse. Once a privileged royal, Cleo must now summon the strength to survive in this new world and fight for her rightful place as Queen. The King of Limeros’s son, Magnus, must plan each footstep with shrewd, sharp guile if he is to earn his powerful father’s trust, while his sister, Lucia, discovers a terrifying secret about her heritage that will change everything. Rebellious Jonas lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country cruelly impoverished—and finds himself the leader of a people’s revolution centuries in the making. Witches, if found, are put to death, and Watchers, immortal beings who take the shape of hawks to visit the human world, have been almost entirely forgotten. A vicious power struggle quickly escalates to war, and these four young people collide against each other and the rise of elementia, the magic that can topple kingdoms and crown a ruler in the same day.
Falling Kingdoms was definitely an interesting book, but unfortunately I just couldn’t bring myself to love it, for several reasons. First off, this book is perhaps the best example of my earlier statement regarding character development feeling quite forced and artificial. In fact, it was less character development, and more a character suddenly morphing into a completely new person after one singular event – Jonas, Cleo and Magnus are all exemplary examples of this flaw. By comparison, Lucia’s character development felt much more holistic and natural, leaving me quite disappointed that she wasn’t featured very heavily in Falling Kingdoms.
Secondly, the world-building in this one was just all over the place – characters seemed to teleport from one location to another, and then other times travel took a more reasonable amount of time, leaving me quite confused about the actual size of Mytica.
Finally, and this is perhaps my biggest qualm with Falling Kingdoms, the writing simply felt childish. Often, the vocabulary used felt more suited to a middle grade novel than YA. Moreover, the plot development was similarly childish, building for far too long, with a disappointing climax and conclusion, leaving the reader feeling cheated. Overall, this was not a fantastic book, but I maintain high hopes for the rest of the series (2/5).
Rebel Spring (Book 2)
The kingdom of Auranos–and Princess Cleo along with it–has been conquered and the three kingdoms of Auranos, Limeros, and Paelsiaare now unwillingly united as one country called Mytica. But alluring, dangerous magic still beckons, and with it the chance to rule not just Mytica, but the world. When King Gaius announces that a road is to be built into the Forbidden Mountains, formally linking all of Mytica together, he sets off a chain of cataclysmic events that will forever change the face of this land.
Rebel Spring by Morgan Rhodes is the second book in the Falling Kingdoms series, and in many areas, it is stronger than its predecessor, though it still falls short of being considered exemplary. Instead, I would have to say that Rebel Spring is solidly mediocre – perhaps even a bit forgettable.
One thing Rhodes really improved upon in this book was the depth and complexity of the relationships between the characters. Where in Falling Kingdoms these relationships had been very clear-cut and artificial, in Rebel Spring Rhodes complicates these relationships, adding a plethora of layers, interactions and experiences to complicate many of the relationships between her primary characters, including Cleo and Jonas’ relationship, Cleo and Magnus’ relationship, and Magnus and Lucia’s relationship. This not only made for much more enjoyable and mature character interactions, but also added a layer of complexity to the characters themselves, making the character development they underwent appear much more reasonable.
Finally, the story depicted in Rebel Spring was much of the same – the plot development was similarly childish, building for far too long, with a disappointing climax and conclusion, leaving the reader feeling cheated. Rhodes consistently seems to be building towards something, then leaves the reader confused as nothing much actually happens; and when something does happen, our characters tend to end up in the same position they were previously, reducing the impact of the event. Overall, this character interactions and development were improved upon in Rebel Spring, but the storytelling still just fell short for me (3/5).
Gathering Darkness (Book 3)
Alliances form across Mytica and beyond as royals and rebels alike race to hunt down the Kindred—the four elemental crystals that give their owners god-like power. The stakes have never been higher for Magnus and Cleo, who are brought together by a life or death decision that will lock their fates and change the course of the kingdom forever. The rebels forge ahead. Princess Cleo slays with sweetness—and a secret that might control Lucia’s magic—as she and vengeful Jonas lead the hunt for the all-powerful Kindred. The Kreashians join the fray. Ashur and Amara, the royal siblings from the vast kingdom across the Silver Sea, prove to be just as ruthless as they are charming as they manipulate their way to victory. The Watchers follow Melenia out of the Sanctuary. They ally, in the flesh, with King Gaius, who vows to use Lucia’s powers to unveil the Kindred. And which side will Prince Magnus choose, now that everyone he’s been betrayed by everyone he’s ever loved?
When I first started Gathering Darkness, I thought this would without a doubt be my favourite book in the series thus far – unfortunately, as the story progressed, my opinion of the tale spiraled lower and lower, until it was similar to my opinion of the prior two novels in the Falling Kingdoms series.
This was, once again, mostly attributed to the flaws in the writing, which continue to make these books feel more like middle grade novels than YA, despite the content. However – I think I have finally pinpointed one major issue. The multiple character viewpoints. While this can be done well – and has been done will in the past – the amount of viewpoints that Rhodes has sought to include, paired with the shorter length of the book, end up making the plot feel patchy, rushed and inconsequential. For example, in this novel, the reader does not get a chapter from Jonas’ point of view (nor anyone near him) for a good third of the book. Yet, when he rejoins the story, the reader is only given about three sentences to recap what he and his friends have been up to, despite the importance of his role. This leaves huge holes in not only the plot development, but also in the world-building, a problem which became starkly evident in this novel (even more so than the previous two).
Overall, Gathering Darkness once again fell short of the mark, a result of the multiple viewpoints overshadowing each other, resulting in plot holes, a lack of in depth character development, and sub-par world-building (2.5/5).
So far, this series has been enjoyable, but it has really fallen short in terms of character development, world-building and writing quality, making it difficult to label the first half of the Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes as anything more than average. I am not sure when I will get around to reading the second half of the series, but for now I think I will take a bit of a break from this story (3/5).