First review of 2016! Happy New Year, everyone! Unfortunately, this review has a lot of complaining. Hopefully that’s not a sign of things to come.
Author: Morgan Rhodes
Series: Falling Kingdoms (#4)
Read: December 26th-27th
Release Date: December 15th, 2015
Genre: high fantasy
In short: As usual, the newest Falling Kingdoms book doesn’t impress me until the very end. Spoilers for the first three books, so I’m putting the blurb under the cut. There’s mild spoilers throughout, and a spoilery discussion of the ending right at the end, so avoid if you haven’t read Frozen Tides yet!
Goodreads: Rebels, royals, and monsters wage war over the Mytican throne in the shocking fourth book of the Falling Kingdoms series, from New York Times bestselling author Morgan Rhodes.
CLEO: Reeling after a bloody showdown in Limeros ending with Amara’s abduction of the water crystal, and a vacancy in the Mytican throne, Princess Cleo must cast aside her feelings and look toward her kingdom with the eyes of a Queen.
MAGNUS: With the kingdom in chaos, Princess Lucia still missing and quite possibly in danger, and a shocking realization about Cleo, the steely prince is once again torn between love and duty, leaving him wondering whether he’s strong enough to rule his people.
LUCIA: The young sorcercess has had her vengeance after the cruel death of her first and only love. Heartbroken and unable to trust anyone, she allies with the awoken Fire god, who also seeks revenge.
JONAS: After escaping death by the skin of his teeth, the defeated rebel—along with a mysterious stranger–leader reunites with Princess Cleo, only to find himself a mere pawn in a dangerous hunt for the elusive Kindred.
KING GAIUS: Abandoned by Melenia and betrayed by his own children, Gaius flees Mytica and sails to Kraeshia, where he attempts to ally with the famously brutal emperor across the Silver Sea.
My biggest issue with the Falling Kingdoms series is that they’re not terrible books. They just 1. have a lot of absolutely unexplained worldbuilding, contrasted with some weirdly simplistic worldbuilding and 2. focus too much on romance. I mean it when I say every main character has been in love with every other main character at some point in time. Teenagers and their hormones!
≫ THE PLOT:
“You are filled with so much anger and pain and grief. Yet instead of letting those emotions run through you and make you stronger, you choose to unleash them on the rest of the world so that others might feel your pain as well.”
Our brave characters are…almost exactly where they were before. Lucia has awakened the fire Kindred and is travelling through Limeros with the elemental spirit Kyan, hardened by Alexius’s death and betrayal (not necessarily in that order). She’s looking for her birth family, and of course, a way to open the gates to the Watchers’ Sanctuary so she and Kyan can get their revenge. You know how it is. Cleo and Magnus, everyone’s favourite hot-and-cold royal couple, are now in Limeros and Magnus is ruling on behalf of his father. He’s turned against Gaius, did I mention? Jonas has the earth Kindred, but his rebel forces have fallen to bits. And King Gaius is in Kraeshia with the conniving, brother-slaying Amara, who also has the water Kindred. What could go wrong?
One thing I’m happy about in this book was that there wasn’t as much time spent on angsting. We did get some annoying Jonas and Lysandra, some annoying Felix and Lysandra, and, as always, Cleo and Magnus. But not too much. What is annoying is Lucia’s struggle with the dark side, more on that later, and the fact that a good chunk of it is randomly skipped over and summarised in three lines because…even the author realised it was getting repetitive? What is annoying is the five hundred billion POVs, and this is coming from someone who enjoys multiple POV books. Just because it worked with A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t mean it works in any high fantasy series. There were also several instances of anachronistic dialogue. I guess that’s supposed to be humour, but it felt extremely out of place and didn’t work at all.
I also think several things in this series have been dragged on for no actual reason: Lucia’s moral struggle, Cleo and Magnus’s relationship issues and so much angst, even the general plotline has slowed down a lot. It always picks up at the last 10%-20% of the books, which end up being my favourite parts. What’s the lesson here?
≫ THE SETTING:
This series has a weird mix of a lot of development and no information, and very little development. What do I mean? I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in saying I didn’t understand the Watcher mythology at all when it was first introduced, and I still have trouble following it. It’s barely explained, and add to that confusing mix the Kindred and the spirits (?!) inside them, I have little to no idea what’s happening in most Lucia and King Gaius chapters. Thankfully, there’s not so much of that here; one just has to accept Kyan the fiery spirit. Instead we deal with the other end of the spectrum.
In Kraeshia, all boys—and girls, too—were brought up believing that only men were worthy of respect and honor, while women existed as mere ornaments and playthings, with no influence on others or the world at large.
(So, where did Amara get her differing opinions? Where did her grandmother get them?)
We’re introduced to the Kraeshian Empire, and if you thought it’d be fun to learn about a new place in the world of Falling Kingdoms (even if it is a place that arbitrarily cropped up in a previous book), let me answer you with: Harsh Patriarchal Society Lite. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that no fantasy world should ever be patriarchal. But Mytica is already vaguely patriarchal, as are many fantasy worlds, let’s be honest. It’s a narrative choice, and it disappointed me that Kraeshia didn’t seem original. As for the argument that the Kraeshian plotline wouldn’t work without the patriarchal setting…that’s not true. There are about a hundred different ways we could have read about Amara’s issues with neglect and acceptance, and if you don’t think so, I raise you the Dorne plot of A Song of Ice and Fire.
I was already miffed about the lacklustre revelations in Kraeshia, and then we come to this. The capital’s name is the Jewel. Because Kraeshians pride themselves on the beauty of their surroundings, so their city is like, literally a jewel.
I’m so impressed.
And then we get this:
…the royal residence: a massive green tower, an emerald spear piercing the sky. So it was fitting that the structure was known as the Emerald Spear.
That’s not fitting. That’s unbelievably lazy. Even lazier than Auranos’s City of Gold.
Why are there no language barriers? Why are there no cultural norms? I know the empire is supposed to be really big, and perhaps shouldn’t have a single unified culture, but that doesn’t mean it should be indistinguishable from Mytica except in terms of geography and Excess Patriarchy. I wanted so much more.
≫ THE PROTAGONISTS:
If you thought Lucia was bad before…
“So Eva had a fancy magical dagger,” she said now, shrugging. “How does that help me?”
Lucia is still stuck in the moral struggle (TM) we saw her in for the last…one and a half books? As I said after reading the book where Lucia first learns about her powers and gets all sinister, we can’t appreciate Lucia’s change because we didn’t know enough of her before. Now I’m rooting for her partly because I have morals too (imagine that!) and know it’s “not right” for her to do what she does, but mostly so that I’ll stop having to read her simultaneously evil and holier-than-thou thought process. Please stop.
Magnus is climbing his way up the mountainous redemption arc…except that it’s like, a very small hillock. And he has a car to get him over it. Earlier on, I was rooting for him because I knew he was a terrible human being. Now…he’s still pretty bad, but somehow everyone else is all over him. I get that he’s supposed to be a Prince Zuko-type figure, but Zuko went through a looooong period of self-discovery before he switched sides, and even then it took him a while to be accepted by the “good guys.” Magnus’s sudden swap makes him look terribly flat. (And is it all for love, now? You’ve got to be kidding me.)
Cleo, who’s usually up to something cool (if questionable), is…mostly a prop for Magnus’s redemption arc here, which was extremely, extremely frustrating. I’ve complained in the past that she’s dragged around for “love” by the plot way too often, and this book was no exception.
Amara would’ve been interesting—wanting to take over the empire, take down the patriarchy, etc. etc. But that’s just the surface. By the end of the book, she’s even more of a sneaky villainous fiend than she was after killing Ashur. And…she’s…the…only…female…person of colour…while Magnus, our favourite privileged white guy, gets the redemption arc. Hmm. Narrative choice, people.
And my least favourite character of the lot…Jonas.
You’re a great leader who cares about others more than yourself.
Um? No? Jonas’s arc is full of more stupid decisions, although mercifully not as many as in the past. Why doesn’t he kill Magnus when he has the chance, for example? And of course he has to angst about Cleo…and then about Lysandra. Nice. That was it. That was all he did.
≫ THE OTHER CHARACTERS:
Kyan has to be the most frustrating character that I have ever read about. Ancient spirit? No! He’s literally a child. It baffles me how the oldest immortals in this series often act like one-dimensional pieces of cardboard (the Startling Revelation (TM) about the true brattiness of “goddesses” Cleiona and Valoria, for one), and Kyan is no exception. Felix could have been interesting in this book too if not for the fact that he’s the male version of Cleo two books ago—between a rock and a hard place, and pining for someone he can’t have. Bah. Lysandra doesn’t do much, but she is notably pressured into wearing an outfit she isn’t comfortable in because Jonas wants her to. Um. I won’t name any names, but this book also pulls a Throne of Glass and kills off a female character to spur others to act—not one, but two boys are driven by her death! Records set! I was furious.
≫ OF VILLAINS:
Gaius isn’t as prominent of a villain in this one, because he’s pretty much replaced by scheming Amara. What a great twist.
≫ THE ROMANCE:
Like I said, Jonas spends the first half pining over Cleo, and then that suddenly just disappears and is replaced with feelings for Lysandra. What? There is no sequence of events here.
Similarly, Cleo and Magnus suddenly accept their feelings for each other, after (at least on Cleo’s side) a good long time of loathing. I need there to be some proper progression; I am not going to buy it if these characters go from bickering to kissing in 3.5. And this is coming from someone who was thoroughly annoyed by the monotony of the bickering. In this book especially, Cleo is already not doing anything that doesn’t involve Magnus. Magnus is already skipping through his far-too-easy redemption arc. The too-quick resolution felt like a cop-out on top of their own arcs, and in light of the dramatic ending, I can tell there’s going to be more unnecessary drama piled onto it.
≫ TO SUMMARISE:
I know I’m going to read the next book. But I’m going to make sure I stomp thoroughly on my expectations before I do. The ending is below, and full of spoilers!
≫ THE ENDING:
Dramatic, like I said: Nic telling Theon’s twin that Magnus murdered Theon. Hooray for more drama in the Magneo plotline. The ending manages to do one thing that the rest of the book struggled with: keep me interested.
Lucia’s big plot twist made me snort aloud because I’m sure a pregnancy will make her even harder to bear. Now she can be even more holier-than-thou! If I wanted this to go any way, I’d love for it to work out like Diana’s pregnancy in the GONE series, but it’s too late to establish Lucia as three-dimensional and I highly doubt anything quite so twisted and brilliant will happen. Oh well. Motherhood can bring her back to the path of light, I guess.