Falling Kingdoms: Falling Kingdoms, Book 1
War is coming. In a land divided into three kingdoms, old resentments ignite when a young lord slays a merchant boy of the neighboring and long-oppressed Paelsia. Hungry for justice and power, northernmost kingdom Limeros allies with Paelsia, and both swear to bring the extravagantly wealth southernmost kingdom, Auranos, to its knees.
But feuding kingdoms are only the backdrop for the personal journeys of the young people whose lives are upended by the conflict. Princess Cleo of Auranos struggles to be a perfect princess, but her headstrong will to secure safety and happiness for herself and her loved ones thwarts her efforts. Jonas of Paelsia loses his brother to an arrogant young lord and vows to seek vengeance for him. Princess Lucia of Limeros conceals a dangerous secret from her family. Her brother, Prince Magnus, yearns to prove himself to his formidable father and tries to suppress his love for someone he cannot have.
"The strength of this book lies in its often morally ambiguous characters and jaw-dropping did-that-really-just-happen plot twists. It gives the reader plenty of opportunities to pick sides, and the choice is never entirely straightforward."
FALLING KINGDOMS is told from the alternating perspectives of these four characters. Occasionally, a chapter follows the mysterious spirit Ioannes, who surveys the activities of select humans through the eyes of hawks. His appearances read as setup for the novel’s planned sequels, which are sure to delve more deeply into the mythology established in this volume. Suffice it to say that the world of the three kingdoms used to be one kingdom in which elemental magic was practiced, but a conflict between goddesses led to the scattering of the elementia, gems essential for the mastery of such magic, and the possibility of such power began to fade from the dividing world.
The strength of this book lies in its often morally ambiguous characters and jaw-dropping did-that-really-just-happen plot twists. It gives the reader plenty of opportunities to pick sides, and the choice is never entirely straightforward. Who will win the war? Who should win the war? Should Cleo fall in love with the arrogant nobleman, the chivalric guard or her loyal best friend? Perhaps even the Paelsian rebel? The surly Prince of Limeros?
Other reviewers have drawn comparisons between FALLING KINGDOMS and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, more commonly known as “Game of Thrones,” the title of the television series based on the books. While FALLING KINGDOMS has a narrower scope, focuses almost exclusively on teenage protagonists and involves a much heartier helping of romance, the comparisons are not entirely unfounded. Both Rhodes and Martin are unflinching in their willingness to kill even the characters you thought were the safest. Both achieve their shining moments in their portrayals of morally ambiguous characters. (The chapters featuring Magnus, the angry and tortured Prince of Limeros, are consistently the most engrossing because the reader cannot quite decide how to feel about him.) Further, Rhodes’ and Martin’s high fantasy stories include the return of magic, scheming witchy advisors and royal incest.
The language of the book sometimes sounds too modern for the Middle Ages-esque setting of most high fantasy novels and occasionally makes reference to cultural touchstones of European origin. In one such moment, a character says, “My kingdom for a handkerchief,” a play on a famous line from Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which the inhabitants of Auranos have certainly never seen. Regardless, Rhodes also writes her characters with plenty of passion and forces her readers to feel every longing and betrayal. She has flashes of memorable insight into the workings of such feelings, such as the moment in which Cleo realizes that the man she loves “saw her as she would like to be seen” and is grateful to him for that rare gift.
Rhodes writes her high fantasy under a pen name to distinguish this project from her other books, most of which can be categorized as paranormal romance YA. Fans of Michelle Rowen’s Demon Princess, Nightwatchers and Immortality Bites are sure to find a familiar authorial voice in here.
FALLING KINGDOMS introduces a magical fantasy world on the brink of mass chaos and populates it with relatable, flawed and human protagonists before finishing each character’s story arc with a cliffhanger. Rhodes had better release the second book soon or rabid fans will be sure to clog her inbox with demands to know what happens next.
Reviewed by Caroline Osborn on November 16, 2012