Publishing Date: December 11 2012
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Romance
Page count: 412 (paperback)
Falling Kingdoms pulls no punches. It’s exactly about what the title says. No ambiguity there. When a peasant boy is killed by a noble of another kingdom, the leaders of the two poor adjacent lands decide it’s the perfect opportunity to invade their richer neighbour and take their green and fertile land for themselves. The story is told from multiple points of view: there’s Jonas, who is the dead peasant boy’s brother, a spoilt princess Cleo from the rich invaded kingdom, a brother and sister royal pair (Magnus and Lucia) from the third land, and also from the point of view of a ‘Watcher’ – a exiled god who takes on the form of a hawk to spy on people. There is also random head hopping which may be removed from the final version.
There’s a lot of points of view, and even though I went into this book knowing it, I don’t think in the end that it worked for me. For a start, Rhodes chose to make each narrator unreliable, which led to a lot of what-the-fuck moments on my part. Each narrator saw things very differently – at first I appreciated this, because they all have different backgrounds and different interpretations, and I thought it was clever. It’s great to have these points of view all reporting horribly different things, but it makes it extraordinarily difficult to choose who to ‘root for’ (for lack of a better term). Magnus was my favourite character until other people were telling me about how dangerous and heartless he was. Cleo was insufferable and annoying until other people were telling me how beautiful and brave and capable she was. When Jonas decided Cleo needed to die because she was directly responsible for his brother’s death (when we had clearly seen her standing by and not being involved) I simply thought he was going mad. When other characters saw nothing but an evil king but we are deliberately shown tender moments from his daughter, I didn’t know who to believe, and I didn’t like the floundering trying to figure out who was more reliable or trying to figure out who I wanted to come out successful.
Princess Cleo annoyed me the most. She constantly had people telling her she needed to be strong and others all love her for her beauty and intelligence and wit, but when her friend admired her for shooting down a guard using ‘nothing but her words’, all I could think was, ‘She’s a PRINCESS. She crushed him with her RANK and then threatened his life. There’s nothing clever about her.’ Likewise, everyone praised her from escaping a dangerous situation ‘all by herself’ when she really sat on her butt feeling sorry for herself until she was rescued by a big strong man. Cleo simply infuriated me. She was so spoilt and entitled and demanded every man to step in and save her life. There was one point where she was standing next to a coward, her life at risk from a third character, and she had nothing but scorn for the coward because he wanted to surrender instead of fight to save her life. It’s like, Cleo, pick up a damn sword and be responsible for your own safety. We are constantly told how amazing she is from other characters, and shown over and over again how she is not. She is clearly meant to be the darling of the novel, and I just hated her so much I wanted her to die.
Another thing that I struggled to accept was Jonas’ blind hatred of Cleo. I was okay with it until he started going on about how beautiful she was. In the sequels I believe he’s going to fall in love with her – it was far too much of a hint for anything else (the kind of hint that wallops you over the head again and again screaming I’M A HINT, NOTICE ME.). In the real world, when you hate someone, you certainly don’t see their good points in their physical attributes. If Jonas really hated her, he wouldn’t have seen her as beautiful at all.
Magnus was my favourite character for a long time. I liked his brooding angst, and he seemed loyal and defensive in a stalkerish kind of way towards his sister. Then his heart broke and he completely changed character to the point where I didn’t like him anymore. Which is a pity, because he was the only character I liked and the only reason I kept going. Yes, there are hints of incest, but to me that lent Magnus a wonderful personality and character that I really liked – until he went batshit crazy and had a personality transplant.
Lucia’s point of view was completely superfluous. It could have been narrated by Magnus – god knows he spent enough time with her. Lucia was also a bland character, given a massive gift she clearly hadn’t earned and learned to use it far too quickly for my liking, with nary a struggle.
I found Rhodes’ writing to be choppy, which is strange because she’s not a debut author. It certainly is possible to use modern slang in a fantasy setting, (it works quite well in Maria V Snyder’s books) but in this novel the language seemed stilted and trying too hard to be poetic and dramatic, so every instance of ‘asshole’ or ‘bitch’ seemed jarringly out of place.
Overall I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as I wanted to, and I probably won’t be reading the sequels either. The inconsistent characterisation annoyed me, as did the ineffectual use of modern slang.
An advance reader copy was kindly provided by the publisher.