Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is a tale of three kingdoms and their representatives, a sheltered princess facing the realities of the world for the first time, a woman of the people who is soon to become the leader of a freedom fighting revolution, and an isolated prince and his sister both shrouded by their deep dark secrets. All vye to understand the mystical forces of witches, watchers, the elemental magic that surrounds their world, and to find the person long destined to wield it all the while trying to prevent all out war between their factions.
The start to the Falling Kingdoms series is an overall entertaining read, but with far too many inconsistencies on what it is attempting to be, ends up being frustrating for the reader and a poor start to a series. Rhodes is clearly and obviously taking many cues from the popular fantasy writers of the past such as Tolkien, Riordan, Lewis, Rowling, Martin and others, which while not a problem in and of itself, leads to a very inconsistent feeling story as Rhodes is lending from all of these different authors who all have different styles.
What this translates to in a practical sense is that the plot itself is very confused. It seems that it cannot decide between being a story with a prophesied hero and antics of magical teenagers ala Harry Potter or Percy Jackson but without the dedication to that concept that the aforementioned series contained. This is because it also has an heavy emphasis on medieval politics and darker themes more in line with something that may be found in the popular Game of Thrones series and the menagerie of fantasy works by J.R.R Tolkien. While all of the series mentioned contain elements of the mystical and magical, they either decide to take this element in a lighthearted manner or a far more serious manner depending on the overall tone of the book or series. However Falling Kingdoms has a strange desire to mix the both of them together in a strange combination of tones that ends up being more confused than clever.
This hurts the overall experience of the book tremendously as the work is at its best when it embraces the darker tone and at its worst when it attempts to be lighthearted, fun, or enchanting. Rhodes attempts to offset this and justify the inconsistent tone by splitting the book
into the perspectives of three different people each hailing from the three titular kingdoms that dominate this fictional land. However this only accentuates the problem as two of the three, and the third to a lesser extent, are incredibly dark with themes of political assassinations, religion, abuse, both parental and otherwise, incest, war, famine, racial and gender inequality and other dark aspects that were present during actual medival conflicts throughout history.
These aforementioned dark themes and concepts are where the book shines its brightest, Rhodes does an incredible job of creating sympathy in the reader for characters that are objectively terrible. Showing us why these characters are the way they are while also keeping them consistent throughout the book, and having all the character development make sense in the context. It keeps the reader engaged with every second of the book, at the edge of their seat for every single plot twist and development, leaving them foaming at the bit for more. If it could simply stick to these aspects it could be the amazing start to a series.
Unfortunately, Falling Kingdoms is unable to commit in its entirety to these aspects and instead insists on bogging itself down with prophecies, magic, fairies, and witches, seemingly desperate to repeat the success of those fantasy predecessors. However it misses the opportunity to be an entirely new thing to the genre, prospects of being something completely new not often seen in the medium it feels far more dime a dozen, destined to be lost in the ever expanding and changing world of literature. So while Falling Kingdoms kept me engaged from beginning to end and was entertaining the whole way through it ultimately disappointed me with how much potential was absolutely wasted.