by Morgan Rhodes
To be published by Penguin/Razorbill
on December 11, 2012
My summary: Three kingdoms. Two princesses. A prince. A guard. A stolen baby. A secret. A murder (well, more than one.) A dangerous alliance (also more than one.) Forbidden love.
Goodreads 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.
My take: As my regular blog readers know, I'm not a big fantasy reader. But to me, Falling Kingdoms didn't read like a fantasy, despite the cover and the long list of characters that prefaces the text and the book's setting in the mythical land of ... Mytica. After finishing the book, I have to say that Falling Kingdoms read more like a fairy tale. Which is not a criticism -- I love fairy tales!
What's the difference between fantasy and a fairy tale? I couldn't find any good explanation on the internet, but I'll give it a shot and -- as always -- you're welcome to chime in and disagree in comments!
To me, fairy tales have simpler worldbuilding. There's not a lot of explanation of the world or how its magical and supernatural elements work; these things just are. The princess gets cursed and then the kiss magically wakes her up.
I also think that characters in a fairy tale tend to be more archetypal. We meet them and instantly recognize them: the beautiful princess and the jealous old witch who didn't get invited to her christening. Finally, I think the plot elements are deliberately more transparent in a fairy tale: we watch the witch curse the baby and we know that Aurora is going to get herself into trouble, no matter what her parents try to do to keep her safe. That's part of the pleasure of the story, to know that she's going to get her finger pricked.
So, back to Falling Kingdoms. To me, the main strength of Falling Kingdoms lies in the cleverness of its set-up. There are three neighboring kingdoms and a nicely chosen cast of characters, all with various loyalties to and hatreds of and rivalries with one another. There are beautiful princesses and evil nobles and loyal guards and servants and two couples who seem like they can never be together ... except that in a fairy tale, anything is possible.
The three kingdoms are mainly described by climate and crops, and in contrast with one another:
Auronos was warm and temperate, even in the bleakest winter months, with rolling green hills, sturdy olive trees, and acres upon acres of rich, temperate farmland. Paelsia, by contrast, seemed dusty and gray as far as the eye could see.Paelsia does grow grapes and is known for its wine. Limeros, the third kingdom, is described as "frigid [and] colorless" with "ice-covered land" and a "frosty granite castle."
The palace at Limeros reminded me of the palace of the Snow Queen in the Hans Christian Andersen story:
The walls of the palace were of driving snow, and the windows and doors of cutting winds ... all were lighted up by the powerful Aurora Borealis, and all were so large, so empty, so icy cold, and so resplendent!The character descriptions in Falling Kingdoms also seemed straight out of my favorite fairytales. Princess Lucia has "eyes the color of a clear blue sky." Cleo is "a beautiful golden princess with eyes the color of the sea." Evil nobleman Aron's "slight frame and pale skin spoke of a lifetime indoors." He also drinks too much a smokes and leers and threatens Cleo-- a perfect villain.
There's a stolen baby -- foundlings and changelings are great fairy tale tropes -- and even some magical seeds. Cleo's sister Emilia becomes seriously ill. Emilia tells Cleo that a healer told her of a woman in the kingdom of Palesia who has magic grape seeds that cure illness. Cleo talks to her father about the seeds, and he forbids her to go in search of them. She discusses the seeds with her friends Nic and Mira. She then talks to Theon, the palace guard, who also forbids her to go after the seeds. Of course, like Little Red Riding Hood, or Blackbeard's wife, or dozens of other fairytale heroines who willfully wander into danger, she goes after the seeds.
Falling Kingdoms was a quick and enjoyable read that I think will appeal to those who enjoy a fast-paced story with strong fairy tale elements, the promise of romance and a touch of action. The story is told in alternating third-person POV, which worked well given that the main characters hailed from three different kingdoms. While the book's worldbuilding, character development, and plot were definitely not as rich, multi-layered and complex as I've come to expect from my favorite YA fantasy series, like the Lumatere Chronicles or the Graceling Realm series, the fairytale world of Mytica and its characters definitely have a lot of appeal.
I'll be offering up a copy of Falling Kingdoms as a prize on tomorrow's Hot Off the Presses, and giving other readers a chance to link up their reviews of this book and others -- be sure to stop by!