****FINAL RATING: 4.05 STARS****CATCHALLFalling Kingdoms was, if I has to sum it up in one word, awesome. I tend not to read a lot of high fantasy, but it's not because I don't want to. In fact, Tamora Pierce was one of the first authors I fell in love with, so of course fantasy has always had a place in my heart. There was a lot of intrigue, and that was fun. There was also a lot of action, which was even more fun. This book actually touched only lightly and briefly on romance but it's obvious it's a subject that will be returned to. Falling Kingdoms was a glittering gem that stands out from other contemporary YA due not only to its genre, but also due to its sparkling cast of characters.THE HEROS & HEROINES CLEOCleo I actually had something of a difficult time connecting to, but this didn't mean I didn't like her. Quite the contrary, actually. Cleo often comes off as a whiny princess, and she's definitely been spoiled by her position in life. She isn't used to roughing it and she certainly doesn't understand the desolation and hopelessness of the peasants. Still, she genuinely has a good heart and she cares for her people. And even though she can be foolish, ridiculously so on occasion, she's also brave and she doesn't consider danger when making choices. Cleo is definitely rash, and she does have to suffer the consequences for some of her choices. JONASJonas. I really, absolutely loved Jonas. He's bitter over the murder of his brother and he's bloodthirsty for revenge. Honestly, I think that nearly all of us can understand that kind of pain. So he lashes out. He becomes intent on making Cleo suffer, since she did nothing as the murder happened. But at the same time, while he doesn't always handle his grief well, he's a true patriot who wants the best for his country. He's also clever, but not too clever, and can see what others can't. He's the one who discovers a key betrayal, and once he pushed past his anger and bitterness he honed it into a weapon.LUCIALucia is the chosen one, a sorceress. She has magic that's entirely unheard of in a time where witches of lesser magic are prosecuted. She cares deeply and unconditionally for her brother, Magnus, and she'll do absolutely anything for him. That loyalty runs deep. She's struggling to figure out who she is and she also wants to keep her magic a secret. She knows that once it is revealed she'll be in danger. Lucia discovers some truths that shock her and bring her past into question, and she isn't entirely sure how to handle that. I don't feel too connected with her, and although I do like her, she's the character who was the least real for me.MAGNUSI loved Magnus. Like, a lot. He's definitely the darkest of the four characters, and has an immense capacity for cruelty. His father is incredibly cruel, and while he isn't positive he wants to be like that something inside him enjoys other people's pain. He faces harsh rejection of love and he isn't sure how to handle it. After a certain murder that passes as a sacrifice, he grows closer to the father he's never believed loves him, and the results could be disastrous. It's easier for him to not feel than for him to feel hurt, so he lets his feelings melt away and becomes a prince of ice, and his father's greatest weapon. But at the same time, not all of him is cruel, and much of him is good yet buried.THE PLOTLike I said earlier, Falling Kingdoms has a lot of intrigue. Like, a lot of it. There are three kingdoms, and the fate of all of them is tied together. Two of them are planning to overthrow the richer, third kingdom, but the alliance between them is not all that it seems. This is a struggle for absolute control, and it won't end until all three kingdoms lie securely in one man's grasp.But really, even then, it isn't over. The people aren't simply going to give up. Neither are the rulers, or the four teens who are starring characters in this book. The relationships between them are complicated, but all four of them are still tied together irrevocably. There's a strong connection between them and though they maybe haven't realized it yet, they will.I was honestly kept interested throughout the entire novel. There were some things I didn't like, sure, and a few too many things that were just a bit too convenient. A lot of it seemed to work out nicely and for some reason even the sadder moment seemed too calculated and perfect. i don't know. It's possible I'm just being weird, but that's still how I felt.I can say with absolutely certainty that this book is emotional. There are a handful of joyful moments, but a good chunk of this book is full of teary moments. Not everything is happy in the world of Falling Kingdoms. There's a lot of loss, a serious lot of it, and a healthy serving of despair and hopelessness at times. Yet through it all, there is that important ray of hope that keeps the characters moving on. It is different for all of them, but it still exists.Since it was fantasy, there's also the magical aspect! I wasn't sure how this was going to be handled but I ended up loving the way it was done. The magic in this world is elemental, so fire, water, wind, and earth. It's also very uncommon and largely frowned upon. I thought the way it was done was nice and although elemental magic isn't exactly rare in YA these days, it was still and awesome choice.Overall, Falling Kingdoms has a plot that was entertaining as well as unique. And seriously, what more can you ask for? I loved it as much as I've loved many other wonderful books, and it definitely is something that thrilled me with its hint of intensity and even mystery.THE ROMANCEThere's actually surprisingly little romance in this book, but I have a strong feeling that it will eventually play an important role. I didn't talk specifically about the love interests in the novel because at this point I feel like there's not a whole lot to say about them. Theon is one of Cleo's love interests, but I jut didn't feel too much between him and Cleo. He's a wonderfully flesh-out character for his brief appearance but he and Cleo have instalove down to an art. Her other love interest, Nic, is a bit underdeveloped and rather dull, but they have something quieter too. Jonas is trapped in a union that he doesn't want to carry through, but he may be freed from it anyway. Lucia and Magnus are a different story. Magnus has a unrequited love, and Lucia's heart is still a mystery.THE WRITINGMorgan Rhodes, who is actually Michelle Rowen, has some really nice writing. She uses first person in her Nightwatchers series. I remember liking it but thinking that her third person would be better. As it turns out, I was right. Michelle's third person writing just blew me away. It practically lifts the story off the page and makes it real. I literally felt like I was there, experiencing everything right along with our heroes and heroines. Her world-building especially is fantastic. There's enough history to make me understand and picture the land but not so much that I start to feel like I'm reading a textbook. She achieves the perfect balance. And getting into the minds of her characters, all so different yet so alike, is unreal in a good way.THE ENDINGHonestly, the ending wasn't my favorite part. It had this whole kind of rushed feeling and felt kind of thrown in. It's not that it was horrible, an it's not that it didn't make sense. Because honestly, while it was kind of odd, it wasn't overly convenient or anything. It just really felt kind of thrown in to me, like it was added at the last minute. It was just kind of weird. While it was intriguing and definitely set up the next book, I think it could really have been better planned out, possibly extended. This is probably my main complaint about the book.WRAPUPI loved Falling Kingdoms, because it was definitely unlike anything I've read in a while. The characters lit up the pages for me and it was intense enough to hold my interest for long periods of time. I truly think this will appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce, like me. And if you're a fantasy lover in general, you'll probably love this. Or if you're just a person who loves their fair share of plot intrigue and such! I fell in love with this book, so of course I'll be reading the future installments. I can't wait to see what's next for Cleo, Jonas, Lucia, and Magnus!FINE.Find more of my reviews on Sparkles and Lightning!