Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
Series: Falling Kingdoms #1
Published by Penguin Group
Pages: 412
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Rating: Good
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The lands of Mytica was once one. United. That was before goddesses squabbled over power. Before the lands started to fail. Now, Mytica holds three warring kingdoms - each determined to come out the victor in the brewing war. Four young lives are irrevocably intertwined: Princess, Rebel, Sorceress and Heir. With three country's going to war, can anyone win?

"Even in the darkest and most cruel person, there is still a kernel of good. And within the most perfect champion, there is also darkness. The question is, will one give into the dark or the light? It's something we decide with every choice we make, every day we exist. What might not be evil to you could be evil to someone else."

Argh! I don't know how to review this book. To understand my frustration, I'm going to have to give you a little background on my reading. I first saw this book at my local department store and fell in love with the cover. The book sounded good. (Right up my alley, in fact.) However, I waited to buy it, doing my best to convince myself it probably wasn't for me. It didn't work. I bought the book and sat down and started reading it. I was almost immediately disappointed. I made it to around page one hundred eighty-five before stopping and putting it up on my shelf. There it sat (well, actually, I shoved it under my chair...) for I don't even know how long.

However, I never really did get this book out of my head. Finally I picked it back up, dusted the dust-bunnies off it and started up where I left off. Honestly? I'm not sure what my problems were the first time. Maybe I was having a bad day. Maybe I was trying to read this on the heels of a bad book. I don't really know because this book's actually kind of fun. It's not high literature, which is good because as soon as a fantasy starts trying to be high literature, I usually quit enjoying it much.

This book follows four people in the days before war. Tension is simmering just below the surface and everyone can tell this peace won't last long. There's political machinations in the works, as well as a healthy dose of bigotry in the form of people that think citizens of the other two countries are below them in ever way imaginable.

I had really thought that the four characters were going to meet early in the story and then kind of team-up to bring prosperity to all the lands. Yeah... I kind of go for that idealistic stuff, I guess. Instead, what I found was hatred and discontent between the four. Except, noticeably, the two in the story that actually grew up together. And their relationship was just messed up from the start.

The world building was...quite strange. The land of Mytica is an island - vaguely shaped like England and Scotland - that holds the three kingdoms. The northern kingdom is cold. Very cold. Like an ice world. The southern kingdom is prosperous and very religious. The middle kingdom is poor, with lands that cannot grow crops. And... Uh, that's pretty much it. (Oh, if only geography was clearly divided by country lines... 'course I'm guilty of doing the same thing in the stories I write so...) Besides those problems, travel between one capital and the bordering country's capital apparently takes so little time that it doesn't need to be mentioned and can be completely glossed over. Which, I will admit, could easily be a blessing in disguise as I've never really liked those 'endless journey' stories.

In fact, one character actually said something along the line of 'give it a week and I'll come back' while they're in another kingdom and they were on their way home. That's right. Want to invade your neighbors? Three days travel, tops. At least that'll cut down on having to organize an army march.

The characters were quite a mixed bag for me. I hated Jonas. The whole 'consumed-by-revenge' thing is just not for me. I sort of liked Lucia, but more than anything I felt indifferent to her. She was interesting, but besides one moment when she really got to shine, didn't actually do much. The fact that I liked Cleo surprises me. Yes, she's a spoiled, pampered little brat but, for some reason, I cannot bring myself to hate her. Maybe because she tries and doesn't just sit around and whine. That brings us to Magnus who I found deeply fascinating even though he was totally screwed up in the head. (Okay, I probably found him as interesting as I did because he was screwed up in the head, but shh.)

I like the idea of a bodyguard crush, only in reverse where the guy doing the guarding - preferably of someone so far out of his station that he doesn't have a prayer - falls in love with his charge. That was the romance I was following and - well... It worked out about how I expected. Beyond that, the only other romance we dealt with was pretty much stepped on - along with the heart of someone. I do imagine there will be more romance in the subsequent books, but it was rather nice that it wasn't forced down your throat that these two are in love with each other. Quite a breath of fresh air.

Now, with everything I have said, why didn't I hate this book? Honestly? Hell if I know. The characters weren't original. (I'm sure if you've read many fantasy novels you've already come across their stereotypes before.) The countries were geographically way too close together. (But, seriously, what burgeoning fantasy author hasn't made that mistake. Besides, it's like putting every little issue into a very small pressure cooker.) While the romance wasn't of the 'love-at-first-sight' type, it was the raison d'etre behind several notable character changes.

So why didn't I hate the book?

Because it was a fun book. Because it was entertaining. The frequent POV changes (all told from third person!) were an added bonus as they changed pretty much every chapter and those type of setups usually works out well for me. All in all, I do look forward to the next book in the series, but it will probably be a long time before I get to it.

Read as part of the following challenges: Goodreads & Book Bingo.