________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 19. . . .January 18, 2013


Falling Kingdoms.

Morgan Rhodes.
Toronto, ON: Razorbill/Penguin, 2012.
434 pp., hardcover, $20.00
ISBN 978-1-5951-4584-0.

Subject Headings:

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.



Jonas collapsed to his knees and stared with horror at the ornate dagger sticking out of Tomas’s throat. Tomas moved his hand as if to try to pull it out, but he couldn’t manage it. Shaking, Jonas curled his hand around the hilt. It took effort to pull it free. Then he clamped his other hand down over the wound. Hot red blood gushed from between his fingers.

Felicia screamed behind him, “Tomas, no! Please!”

The life faded from Tomas’s eyes with every slowing beat of his heart.

Jonas’s thoughts were jumbled and unclear. It felt as if this moment froze in time for him as his brother’s life drained away.

A wedding. There was a wedding today. Felicia’s wedding. She’d agreed to marry a friend of theirs - Paulo. They’d jokingly given him a hard time when they announced their engagement a month ago. At least, before they welcomed him into their family with open arms.

A big celebration was planned unlike anything their poor village would see again for a very long time. Food, drink…and plenty of Felicia’s pretty friends for the Agallon brothers to choose from to help forget their daily troubles carving out an existence for their family in a dying land like Paelsia. The boys were the best of friends-and unbeatable in anything they attempted together.

Until now.


There has been peace between the three kingdoms of Auranos, Paelsia and Limeros for more than a century, but it is not necessarily an easy peace. As the people of Paelsia struggle to eke out a meager existence, many feel great bitterness towards Auranos for the role that they have played in their nation’s steady decline and for the blind eye that the Auranians routinely turn to their suffering. While the Auranians live in luxury and want for nothing, they take no notice of the extreme poverty and desperation of their neighbours. Or so it would appear to many Paelsians. So when the arrogant Lord Aron of Auranos kills a Paelsian man over a minor dispute in the market, this seemingly trivial incident becomes a rallying point for the already disenchanted citizens of Paelsia. Jonas, the brother of the young man who was slain, vows to avenge his brother’s death and becomes a key figure in the political machinations that follow.

     Meanwhile, for Princess Cleo of Auranos, who was present during the ugly altercation at the market, the results of this incident are also unpleasant. While she grapples with feelings of guilt and remorse over what happened, she is horrified to learn that her father plans to announce her betrothal to the hotheaded and self-centred Lord Aron himself. But of even greater import to her is the realization that her beloved sister is dying. Believing that only magic can save her, Cleo runs away to Paelsia in search of the magic that she desperately hopes will make her sister well.

     And as anger and unrest simmers in Paelsia, the cruel king of Limeros – known more commonly as the King of Blood – makes his own careful and cunning plans. Disgusted by and distrustful of his father, Prince Magnus of Limeros cares only for his sister, Lucia. Wrestling with his feelings for her, he grows increasingly concerned about what exactly his father has up his sleeve. When the truth of Lucia’s identity is revealed, the king’s plans to use her in his own quest to recover the lost magic of these kingdoms, and so to achieve limitless power, begin to take shape.

     Against this backdrop the stories of Cleo, Jonas, Magnus and Lucia unfold. As the narrative shifts between their alternating points of view, readers come to see the bigger picture and how the three kingdoms have arrived at this place. Moreover, in addition to the political maneuverings, there is also the burgeoning awareness that the magic that had once been at the heart of these kingdoms has all but faded, and there are numerous figures in this tale who are racing to recover it. These four young people, whose stories interconnect in a variety of ways, experience love, loss, heartbreak and betrayal in the midst of the assorted deceptions that lead to the story’s dramatic finale.

     Rhodes has crafted a well-paced tale of adventure, intrigue and magic. It is a very elaborate plot that features constant action, high drama and unwavering intensity, and a story that builds steadily towards its seemingly inexorable conclusion. It clearly sets the stage for the books to follow, and readers of high fantasy may enjoy the vivid world-building and anticipate the continued quest for the lost magic that will almost certainly form an even more integral part of the books to come. Readers will also undoubtedly be anxious to see where the events that transpire at the story’s conclusion will lead. Unfortunately, however, the characters who drive this story fail to live up to their potential. While the four protagonists certainly have potential to emerge as strong, multi-dimensional characters in future installments, in this book they lack real depth. The author attempts to describe them as distinct characters, but there is no richness or complexity in terms of their development. For the most part, they come across as shallow and superficial. Consequently, many of the scenes and events in the story feel very forced and/or contrived. Most notable of these is the sudden, poorly-developed romance between Cleo and her guard. Although it was obvious almost from the beginning that this was going to happen, there was no gradual development of their feelings for one another, no subtle evolution of their relationship. They were simply – and very suddenly – desperately in love with one another. And given the extreme suddenness of this development, Cleo’s reaction to the events that follow concerning this new love in her life feels overly dramatic and overwritten. Similarly, the revelation of the ‘shocking secret’ that Lord Aron holds over her proves to be anti-climactic. While choosing to tell the tale from these four very different points of view may have contributed to the intricacy of the plot, it was perhaps at the expense of more thorough and credible character development. So although it is interesting to contemplate what will happen to these four as their stories progress and further intertwine, there is little emotional investment in them as characters at this point. Readers who are hooked by the political intrigue and the action-packed plot, as well as those who are anxious to see how the story’s dramatic conclusion plays out, will look forward to the future volumes but others will hope for the characters to emerge as more empathetic and multi-faceted.

Recommended with reservations.

Lisa Doucet is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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