Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes (Published by Razorbill, December 11, 2012)
Falling Kingdoms is set in a land that was once united, but has now been divided into three countries - the northern kingdom of Limeros, the southern kingdom of Auranos, and Paelsia, an impoverished country in the middle. There was once magic in this land, but it has been lost, and much of the land is dying, particularly in Paelsia, where the citizens live in poverty and never have enough to eat. Unlike most books which have one or two main characters, Falling Kingdoms has a large cast of characters, with four main point of view characters - Cleo, a princess from Auranos; Jonas, a young rebel from Paelsia; and siblings Magnus and Lucia, who are the children of the king of Limeros.
At the start of the story, Cleo is visiting Paelsia when a shocking event takes place. A fight breaks out, and a young man living there is killed by a member of her traveling party, stirring up tensions simmering just beneath the surface. Despite this threat of war, when Cleo returns home and sees how sick her older sister Emilia is, she is determined to return to Paelsia to pursue a rumor of a magical remedy that could save her sister, even though her father has forbidden her to leave the palace and magic of any kind has long since been lost. Meanwhile, Jonas, whose older brother was killed in the incident, decides his country has been oppressed long enough and it is time to rise up against Auranos, whose citizens live in luxury while their neighbors in Paelsia starve. In Limeros, the cruel King Gaius sees these tensions as an excuse to do what he has always wanted - go to war in hopes of conquering Auranos and taking it for himself. His teenage children, Magnus and Lucia, are caught up in these events, as Magnus struggles with his desire to please his cruel father, while Lucia discovers a shocking secret about her past.
When I first learned about Falling Kingdoms, I was dying to read it because it has been described as "Game of Thrones for teens" and because I love young adult high fantasy but very little is published. While this book is not as epic in scope as the Game of Thrones TV series, which I absolutely love (I have not yet read the books as I am intimidated by the length), the general description is accurate enough. It's set in a fantasy world where magic has been lost but is returning, there are multiple rulers fighting over kingdoms, and there is a large cast of characters, the majority of whom are neither entirely good nor entirely evil. There's even a character named Theon, who is fortunately nothing like the one from Game of Thrones, but I kept thinking of him since it's such an unusual name. I really loved the story, characters, and setting of Falling Kingdoms. The main characters really aren't really good guys or bad guys. They are human, they make mistakes, which unfortunately cause great suffering, some of them even do really bad things at times, yet aren't purely evil, just deeply flawed. This book was VERY close to a perfect read for me, but a couple of things made it fall just short of perfection. Some of the phrasing of dialogue and the thoughts of the characters seemed too modern for a book set in a world with a society similar to that of the Middle Ages. I also thought the romantic subplot was underdeveloped, which made it hard for me to believe in the strength of the characters' feelings for each other. And the ending! The ending is too cruel. How will I wait a year to find out what happens next? It will be quite difficult, but hopefully it will be worth the wait! Overall, Falling Kingdoms is a great read for readers who love high fantasy. There is quite a bit of graphic violence as well as many references to sexual situations (although these occur off-screen), so I'd mostly recommend it to mature teens, as well as adults.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.