Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
One of the most effective marketing campaigns that young adult publishers are using these days is the “(Fill in the blank) Reads” strategies. Penguin has chosen a group of upcoming titles and labeled them “Breathless Reads”. They have their own Facebook page, their own dedicated website, and extended excerpts of each book have already been released. It builds a lot of interest in the novels before they even come out, and it certainly sucked me in. I was able to borrow a few of the titles from someone who received the advance copies. One of the upcoming books, Falling Kingdoms, jumped out at me as being an excellent introduction to epic fantasy.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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?”
From reading the synopsis, you may be thinking that this book will have too many characters to follow. You’d think wrong. Rhodes does a wonderful job at delineating each character, making them unique, and giving them their own issues and challenges to deal with. I think my favorite was Magnus. The son of a ruthless king, his own nature clashes with his father’s brutality, and as a result his character changes a lot by the end of the novel. I liked the other characters too, but Magnus stood out as having an interesting story arc.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a perfect book to introduce teen readers not only to epic fantasy, but to some of the darker fantasy. While young adult books like The Hunger Games also use violence and cruelty, it’s kept for the most part to the unfortunate necessity of killing within the Games. In Falling Kingdoms, the darker aspects are not forced, but instead are clear choices made by the characters in the moment. This mirrors adult-level novels like Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, but the intensity is scaled down somewhat, eschewing the more brutal acts that those books contain. Be aware, though, that there is violence in Rhodes’s novel, and sometimes the good guys are the ones who suffer.
What I was most impressed with was the pacing. This is a story about three kingdoms hanging in the balance between an uneasy peace and an all-out war. The dynamics among them—and among the major characters mentioned above—are what keeps the energy high and the pace brisk throughout the book. I never felt that the narrative pace was lagging; rather, I felt pulled along through the plot, always waiting to see what was going to happen next. Once I started this book, it was very hard to put down.
I may have borrowed an advance copy of the novel, but I’ll be waiting for the book’s release date to get my own copy. Falling Kingdoms is a book that I’ll want to read again. The characters, the setting, and the well-paced plot make this one a keeper. The only downside to getting an advance peek is that now I have to wait that much longer for the sequel!
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on October 17, 2012.