by KATIE STOCKDALE
Genre fiction is often regarded as writers simply filling out a formula. Fantasy, for instance, is generally seen as having beautiful and good main characters fighting a dark evil, usually with magic involved. The good characters always triumph in the end. But more and more in fantasy, a change to the formula has arrived, where the main characters are not unquestionably good and who are no longer fighting for humanity’s sake, but for their own.
Falling Kingdoms, the first in a currently six book series by Morgan Rhodes, is full of flawed characters and an uncertain battle between the forces of good and evil.
Cleo Bellos, Princess of Auranos, is spoiled, self-involved, arrogant and extremely naive about the world past the walls of the crown city where she grew up. Her unexplained inability to act leads to a tragedy in which she attempts to deny her own hand.
Magnus Damora, crown prince of Limeros, is cold, cruel, and holds a questionable moral compass. In the castle of the Blood King, Magnus hides in the shadows, never saying what he thinks and acting only to please his father, despite knowing those actions are wrong.
Lucia Damora, Princess of Limeros, is even more naive than Cleo, willing to pledge her life to anyone who says a kind word to her.
Jonas of Paelsia is a wine seller’s son, a poor boy in a poor country who refuses to believe poverty is his destiny.
Their lives collide after an argument in a market place turns violent and the choices they make set off a thousand-year prophecy, awakening magic none of them believed in and revealing a history no one knew.
The beginning of the book, despite later twists and a plot full of action, is hard to get through. Cleo, from whose perspective the book opens, is incredibly hard to read. Vain to the point of being stupid, and unable to stand up for anything; she becomes a frivolity that is headache inducing. However, she is only sixteen and as the book progresses, she grows up very quickly. While her actions are still misguided, she learns more about the world and more about her own mistakes.
Another reason the book might be hard to read is Magnus’s character. He is a character of darkness, and the themes surrounding him are strictly adult, whether it be his self-hate or his understandably unrequited love. It doesn’t take much reading to discover why Magnus is such a mess, one only has to reach his father, King Gaius. This is where the book gets interesting, because while Magnus remains central to the plot and intertwined with the action, there is also a psychological look at his relationship with his father. Rhodes unflinchingly calls into question the ties of family, and how much they demand loyalty, and in a broken family, how much they demand love. Magnus’s struggle with his hate, and yet his love, for his father make for a wonderfully twisted subplot.
Jonas is really the only bright spot in the beginning of the book. Full of righteous rage and shining ideals, it is easy to excuse him for the violence he wants to unleash, especially because unlike other characters, he refrains from ever giving in to anger-fueled violence.
However, shining ideals rarely have a place in the real world and Jonas is quickly pulled into a murky plot which reveals that corruption is everywhere, not only in his symbol of hate, the country of Auranos.
Despite the fact that some of the characters start off uncompelling, or honestly, a little revolting, by a fourth of the way into the book, they are tested to the point of change, developments that are worth the read. Not to mention the twists that litter the plot which are calls for surprise. The first book is a bit of a battle. It’s littered with clichés, and the character descriptions are lacking, as is the world building and the magic system. But the cliffhanger at the end made me read the second book and that is when I started loving the series. It goes from simple to incredibly deep in just three books and I found my favorite characters becoming completely switched around.
And now is the time to start reading it, since the sixth and final book, Immortal Reign, is out February 2018, giving plenty of time to get caught up. Choose a favorite character carefully, because by book five, you’ll probably have replaced them.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at email@example.com