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Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (Guest Book Review by Anthony Carver aka Mr. Bookworm)

After months of nagging my husband to write a review or two for some of the books he reads, he finally relented.  He is considering this his warm up review before tackling A.T.H. Webber’s Erasure.  Hope you enjoy!

I know I’ve been promising my wonderful wife here that I would give her a book review. And because I’m good at getting things done in a timely manner, I’m finally getting around to it about three months later.

fallingkingdomsFalling Kingdoms is the first book in a series set in the land of Mytica. At the center of this land are the three kingdoms of Auranos, Paelsia, and Limeros. Auranos, to the north, is a fruitful land where everyone is prosperous, the king is kind, and everyone is blissfully ignorant. Limeros, to the south, is also apparently fruitful, everyone is not really mentioned as far as prosperity goes, the king is somewhat cruel and iron fisted, and the people are drilled into a sort of religious obedience. Paelsia, smack in the middle, is nearly barren, the chief (apparently, they don’t get a king) is a gluttonous shaman, and the souls of the people are almost as barren as their land is becoming.

The characters in the book are almost as one-dimensional and flat as the landscape. The king of Auranos, Cordullin, is kind hearted yet firm if need be, a family man, and naive. The King of Limeros, Gaius, is (surprise, surprise) the polar opposite of Cordullin. He is cold, somewhat tyrannical, and constantly vying for more power. Chief Basilius of Paelsia is content to live off of his people while they toil away in their vineyards, keeping them at bay by promises of magical abilities that he never shows them. But these are just the rulers and they spend a lot of time in the shadows.

The main characters are a little more developed, but not by much. Emilia, the oldest daughter of Cordullin, is meant to become the next ruler. However, she is sick and dying. Cleo, the younger daughter of Cordullin, is at least better than the usual trope of the spoiled princess. She is caring and often conflicted about her emotions. She is sweet. But for as much as she’s shown to be an enlightened young lady, she is prone to making rash, reckless decisions.

Jonas, the brother of a plot device murdered in the first chapter, is driven by revenge (shock) and a desire to kill all nobles and take their riches. Magnus and Lucia are the children of Gaius, and seem to have the most depth to their characters. Magnus, through most of the book, is trying to reject the role that his father is setting for him. The author goes out of her way to point out the “mask” that Magnus wears, except when around his sister. His sister, like Cleo, is shown to be very caring, even to her father, who is shown through much of the book to be very distant and harsh.

Of course, there are other characters, but many of them feel like nothing more than plot devices to further the progression of the story. Characters seem to just go along, until they are needed for something. Theon, Cleo’s bodyguard, is the best example of this. He is sworn to his duty, despite Cleo’s constant need to disobey and she is constantly running from him even after she knows her life is in danger. Theon chases her down, they admit their love for each other, and then he dies. Specifically in that order. Idea of bodyguard and princess, an idea that could have been used to such great ends, becomes an awkwardly narrated love triangle that ends in almost the same fashion as Cleo’s older sister, Emilia.

At the beginning of the book, Jonas’ brother, Tomas, quickly escalates a haggling between Cleo’s betrothed- (who exists almost solely as an excuse to force Cleo to want the bodyguard) and the wine seller father. Tomas enters the story, gets angry well beyond the excusable limit for a character that has just been introduced with no real story, and is murdered.

Forced plot advancement plagues this book. There is another part where Emilia tells Cleo, who prior to this has been repeatedly described as a non-believer in magic, about a legend of a witch in Paelsia with grape seeds infused with earth magic that can heal anyone. Cleo suddenly believes in magic and rushes off to the very land that houses the family of the plot device that she witnessed other plot device murder. This whole escapade comes to feel like nothing more than a reason for Cleo to get captured and add fuel to the political fire.

Another example is that King Gaius has another, illegitimate son. This son is portrayed as Gaius’ favorite and Magnus’ rival. No sooner than this looks as if it will flesh out character interplay between the king’s siblings, he is murdered as a blood sacrifice to Basilius, who at this point has not really been heard from and has had very little to do with the overall story.

I’m sure by now, you have noticed the occasional mention of magic. Magic–or elementia– is the crux of Lucia’s character, both in the prologue, and actual development, as well as being the reason Cleo does something stupid (once again, after she had been portrayed as a non-believer). The existence of magic is linked to the briefly, and extremely convolutedly, explained mythos of Mytica.

Magic, like some of the characters, only exists to justify the presence or actions of others. There are watchers (god-like beings) who take the form of hawks in the mortal world (they live in Sanctuary–seriously?), and are looking for the lost Kindred (these are some rocks, apparently).

There are a lot of ideas going on in this story. A lot of them can be good with a little fleshing out (magic and the watchers), and some of them had potential to be great: Magnus and Lucia’s relationship was on the road to being a mirror of Ceasare and Lucretia Borgia’s, and the anguish that Magnus felt over feelings that he knew were wrong added a depth to probably the best character in the book. However, this idea is derailed with certain revelations of parentage that bring Magnus around to be more of a budding imitation of his father.

About halfway through, I realized that the only reason I kept reading was that I wanted to see how much of a trainwreck this story would become. And then I thought that maybe I was being overly critical. After all, Falling Kingdoms is a Young Adult novel. That excuse, however, doesn’t hold up when presented with books like The Hunger Games or The Inheritance series. There are many authors of Young Adult fiction that manage to craft deep, interesting characters and that can weave a tale that leaves you wanting more. At the end of the day, I felt much like a Paelsian citizen: disgruntled and ready for a change.

Mr. Bookworm gives it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

NB:  Those of you familiar with the site, will know that we have a policy of not doing a review for a book if we find we are going to give it less than 3 stars.  I would like to further clarify that this is strictly for indie/small press authors.  Morgan Rhodes is far from indie/small press.  She’s has put out enough books to know better.  I trust the judgement of Mr. Bookworm and if this is the kind of quality that Penguin is looking for, then I am not surprised that they bought Author Solutions.

Mr. Bookworm has been dealing with Mrs. Bookworm for almost a decade now.  If you like heavy metal or beer, you might be interested in checking out his blog MoshnHops.

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