Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Falling KingdomsInformation

Goodreads: Falling Kingdoms
Series: Falling Kingdoms #1
Source: Library
Published: December 11, 2012

Official Summary

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?


High fantasy with scope, vision, and complexity is a rare find in young adult literature.  It is almost as if, as soon as a book gets particularly ambitious, it is bumped up to adult status.  Falling Kingdoms seeks to remedy this deficit.  It is being marketed as “Game of Thrones for teens” and clearly models itself after George R. R. Martin’s series with its switching among points of views, its interest in political intrigue, and its edginess.  However, Falling Kingdoms almost follows too much of a pattern.  I found the story entertaining as I was reading, but realized as soon as I finished that it is pretty standard high fantasy, without any particular originality or heart to recommend it over any other book.

The entire plot is set rolling by a random, almost insignificant event: the death of a wine merchant’s son in Paelsia.  This is one of the cleverer aspects of the book, the demonstration of how far-reaching the consequences of a single action can be, especially when the right conditions align.  From this point, the plot strives for more complexity, branching off to follow four or five main characters whose paths will eventually intertwine.

However, the book never seems to be as convoluted as it clearly intends.  It aims for scope, but the miniscule land area covered (traveling from one country to another seems to be an afternoon’s jaunt) and the frequency of interaction among even rival characters makes everything seem compact.  There also is really only one plot: war.  Each main character has a little subplot to deal with individually, but these subplots mainly serve as tools for the characters’ personal development and do not add to the overall structure of the book.

And the characters do need, in my opinion, some personal development.  Rhodes gives readers a diverse cast, including a spunky princess, a cold-hearted prince, a blossoming sorceress, and a vengeful brother.  Unfortunately, I just did not like any of them.  Only a couple characters are actually disagreeable, but just about all are, well, not very bright.  Even supposed “experts” in their fields are unimpressive.  People die left and right in this book (I fear some of the deaths were primarily for shock value), but several of the characters could have easily prevented their deaths if they had any intelligence.

Beyond the numerous, numerous deaths, Falling Kingdoms strives to build an dark, edgy high fantasy world in the vein of George R. R. Martin by providing some staples like mistresses and bastards and by broaching “taboo” topics like pre-marital sex and incest.  Nonetheless, I was not scandalized.  In part this is because Rhodes softens the edges either by not speaking directly about events (i.e mentioning sex occurred but not describing it) or by providing mitigating circumstances.  I do not expect anything else from a young adult book since I assume we want to keep this to something that would make a PG-13 movie, not an R one.  However, things just feel watered down.

Falling Kingdoms falls squarely within my category of a “solid” book.  I found it entertaining as I was reading, and it seems to have all the right elements in place to make a good book: an interesting plot, decent prose, a vision.  In the end, however, it is underwhelming.  It reads as if Rhodes took a base model for a high fantasy book, and then simplified it a bit to make it “appropriate” for a teenage audience.  I enjoyed it, but if I were recommending YA high fantasy to someone, I would choose Graceling instead because it brings a unique voice to the table.  If I were recommending high fantasy in general, I would probably choose an adult book, because I believe teens are capable of handling a bit more complexity than Falling Kingdoms entrusts them with.  I think Falling Kingdoms has an audience, and that many readers will like it, but people who are serious about their fantasy will leave wishing it had given something more.

4 thoughts on “Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

  1. Nara says:

    I think Falling Kingdoms is a bit more standard high fantasy, but the sequel definitely develops the characters a lot more, so I’d recommend reading that if you want to see more depth to the characters and such 🙂

    I actually love reading adult fantasies, but I really enjoyed Falling Kingdoms as well- possibly because I was expecting the softened blows and things, considering the target audience was young adults. I dunno, maybe because I was expecting it, I didn’t mind it too much 🙂


    • Briana says:

      You have a good point. I might have liked it more if I’d had slightly different expectations. Marketing the book as “Game of Thrones for teens” sets a very specific expectation for tone, and I may have been disappointed because the book didn’t quite meet it.

      Also, I’ve been looking for a great YA high fantasy for awhile, so I was just incredibly hopeful about Falling Kingdoms–and it didn’t work out for me. That probably added to my disappointment, as well, and it’s something that really has nothing to do with the book!

      I may still give the sequel a try, though, since you recommend it! I was sort of on the fence about whether I wanted to read it or not.


  2. DoingDewey says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t like this better! I really enjoyed it and to me it did feel pretty epic in scope. I like how everything was connected and the actions of single characters had an impact on the fate of kingdoms. However, you’re right that it is a watered down version of adult fantasy, but that didn’t bother me. Like Nara said, perhaps it bothered me less because I didn’t expect an adult book when I started reading it, but it’s hard to say 🙂


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