Review: Crystal Storm / Morgan Rhodes

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The ruthless Empress Amara of Kraeshia has taken the Mytican throne, and now uncertainty looms over the three kingdoms. Since Lucia unleashed the fire Kindred, wreaking havoc throughout the land, Myticans have been looking for someone—anyone—they can trust. They believe in Amara, not knowing her grand promises are built on lies.

In Paelsia, Magnus and Cleo reluctantly follow King Gaius to the home of his exiled mother, Selia. Selia is a powerful witch and claims she can help unlock the magic of the Kindred—if the visitors agree to her terms. When Jonas arrives from Kraeshia, he is shocked to find that his rebel army now includes his sworn enemies. Along with Nic, Felix, and the mysteriously resurrected Ashur, the contentious group agrees to cast aside old grudges—for now—and united against their common enemy: Amara.

Meanwhile, bearing the child of a Watcher and feared by all, Princess Lucia travels across Mytica to find her family. But time is running out. The impending storm signals the dark prophecy Timotheus warned her about. Her fate is written, and it includes none other than the rebel Jonas. When their paths collied, Jonas and Lucia must decide between blindly following their destiny or fighting for their own free will.

The battle for power culminates at the Paelsian palace, where Amara resides. Rain pours. Blood spills. And soon all will discover that the darkest magic comes at an even darker price.

It took me quite some time to gather my wits after finishing this book. Even now I’m still not really sure whether all of the provided information made it into my damaged brain safely for I’m still in a constant state of denial regarding the last few pages, which, of course, I won’t discuss any further than that; but please be aware of the fact that this ending will most likely leave an innocent, shattered soul in its wake. Consider yourselves warned!

I marathoned the previous books in this series around earlier this year and since then I passionately awaited book 5, Crystal Storm. As soon as my preorder arrived I locked myself up in my room and dived into a world full of magic, violence and intrigue. If I had to describe this series with only three words those would definitely come into my mind first for each and every book enhances these elements with unbelievably deadly precision. Powerlusting kings and queens doing anything to attain what is rightfully theirs, dark, magical beings ripping towns apart until it rains blood and an evil force dooming them all… This and more will await you in this second to last installment. If this premise alone didn’t get you hooked than I certainly don’t know what else will.

“The fire that hollows us out is what allows us to be filled with strength and power where before there was none.”

It’s impossible for me to put everything that happened into words and add my two cents but I very much lean on the term revelation book for it sums up a very great deal of the plot without giving away too much just yet. So it’s safe to say that a lot of the things we took for granted until now we’ll be turned upside down in this world of secretiveness, with your sorry head being on the receiving end of processing everything we thought to be reality and changing it up now that we know better. If this sounds frightening, don’t be for it will make perfect sense in the aftermath. Honestly, I was rather impressed by the fact how complex Morgan Rhodes crafted the relations in this installment and everything beyond. Pieces we didn’t even thought to be missing were uncovered in the most beautiful way possible, slowly but steadily forming a huge web of constructed perfection. I would even go so far as to say that it reminded me a bit of a puzzle coming together; the only difference here is we already thought we were in the know… but oh no, how I very much mistaken I was back then. This book showed me how easily deceptions can be formed and how willingly people are able to fall for them either, without so much as a second guess. In a world, where intrigue is a major part of everyone’s agenda, this can be a deadly mistake; one no one wants to fall for again…

The above is still gnawing at me to this very day and, by far, one of my favourite aspects to this book. But, granted, there are quite a few other things I want to talk about as well; one of them being the world building and setting. Everyone keeps saying: “Falling Kingdoms is a Game of Thrones for young adults” and honestly, there might be hidden a germ of truth in this say, but let’s give this series the credit it so very much deserves; a world divided into multiple kingdoms, reckless rulers trying to lay claim on the throne in a competition for crucial power, an evil force looming to destroy the world as we know it etc. etc. … I, as a passionate fantasy reader, know what I’m talking about when I say that this premise is very common ground this genre stands on. In the end, it’s all up to the author to mix it up with unique elements and give spice to it. But, of course, this wasn’t meant to be a rant; Game of Thrones and Falling Kingdoms share similar traits and are thus to be seen as recommendations only, if someone was pleased by one of the above, naturally. I certainly don’t like it being considered a copy only because of some similarities regarding the story line and you shouldn’t either.

But to get back to the main topic at hand; I loved how Rhodes expanded the world as we knew it, firstly consisting of the island Mytica and then introducing an entirely different and much much bigger land mass beyond, the Kraeshian Empire. Even though we did get to see a bit of this new expansion at the end of book 4 and the beginning of Crystal Storm, the focus remained fixed on the magical borders of Mytica which I very much enjoyed. Rhodes gave away enough to make the setting even more realistic without getting lost in its complexity in range. But, of course, the Kraeshians play an important role either for it was them, or rather Amara, who seized control of our beloved Mytica. Through the course of this series, we made stops in every single kingdom within the island; Limeors with its rough wilderness and ice wastes, Paelsia as the poorest of them all, its citizens barely making it through the day and Auranos with its beautiful, green scenery. I loved that every realm had its very own elements which made the story so much richer. Even the magic aspect seems to unfold with every book, growing ever stronger and stronger. With the fire Kindred being a real living being it very much enhanced my way of thinking about magic; rather it being a force used by witches and wizards, to see it being its very own master brushed up the old standards I had in my mind before and gave way to a new view regarding this topic – at least for me.

“He saw weakness in all mortals, weakness that disgusted him.He wanted to burn it all away, to reduce everything and everyone to ashes, so the world could begin again as part of his quest for perfection.”

I always appreciate when authors add some diversity in their books which was just the case with this series. It’s a “touchy” subject. And yes, I did set the quotations marks on purpose. It definitely needs to be picked up way more than it is right now and I love how most people in this community share my intentions in this regard. We’re heading toward 2017, guys! On this note, I found it to be very refreshing to see Kraeshia being displayed as a beautiful, exotic kingdom; its citizens being of color rather than being straight white – I’m Caucasian myself, just saying. Bisexuality and homosexuality are picked up on as well, giving the story a nice touch. I was especially intrigued by the fact how forthcoming the characters were for fantasy tends to lean on historical aspects regarding the way of thinking and the world at that, and considering that these sexualities were seen as diseases not too long ago and then comparing them with the behaviour shown in this book  it was in fact a great take on what actually should be.

After all my blabbering, not to forget the writing style; At first I was doubtful after receiving my copy of Crystal Storm, I mean only 379 pages? I did pray to all the gods above to grant me my deepest wish to come true, namely the otherworldly success of fanning me into oblivion caused by this very book. Well, let me tell you it did, in fact, do just that. Leaving me speechless, weeping in the corner could be considered a success after all, right? It was mostly due to the amazing writing of Morgan Rhodes. I’m not saying that she’s one of the best writers I’ve ever come across so far but Falling Kingdoms, however, is one of those series which dwell a lot more on the world building, with the characters being the strongest element of them all and deeply embedded in its core. It’s them who make this story so unique, Rhodes I would rather consider as the leader who guides us through this world, whereas my only hope lies in not dying because of anticipation of the last book which won’t come out for yet another year (*insert cries of pain*). But after finishing Crystal Storms, and my barely collapse being merely inches away, I was in awe by how much happened in these 379 pages. I still am. And that’s the thing with these books; each time you remind yourself this will be the last chapter you can’t help but flip yet another page. And so it goes on and on for quite some time until you’re confronted with the horrifying idea of actually reaching the finish line. Her fluent writing truly does wonders in this regard and leaves so much room for anything action-related at that. But, of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t wish for the next book to be somewhat larger than the prequels.

Last but not least, the characters: I already mentioned my love and admiration for them multiple times, rightfully so! These perfectly crafted human beings are shaped with the greatest of caution. Each and every one is flawed from head to toe, some physically some mentally, and therefore, they all build up a wall in order to protect themselves. One thing they all learned the hard way; “If you want to achieve your goal, do your utmost to accomplish said-goal, at any cost.”And that’s exactly the mantra they all live by which is being reflected by most of their actions and thoughts either. So it’s very interesting seeing them react to one another and being able to see behind the curtain as well, when they’re already off to calculating their next move. The most intriguing part, though, is when some unwanted emotions get in the way, messing up their plans, which is rather often the case. That’s where things start to get interesting…

“There are certain situations that practically require me to be as cold and ruthless as possible. If I were to have shed tears over every life I’ve taken over the last year, I’d have dried to a husk long ago.”

Crystal Storm is, as all the previous books in this series, told in multiple POV’s. So, of course I’ll mention all of these characters but I’m trying to squeeze in some secondary characters as well – “trying” being the operative word. Let me start with my cinnamon roll, the Prince of Blood, Magnus Lukas Damora. He is probably one of the most complex characters I’ve ever stumbled upon. He so very desperately craves to be a reckless leader to show his worth, but thereby, he finds himself in a constant fight against his true nature. Being the son of the King of Blood doesn’t help in this regard. Deep down, when he drops his mask of indifference, he cares for those he holds dear and would do anything to get them out of harm’s way. Especially in this book this more vulnerably side to him is being expressed more than ever. Cleiona “Cleo” Aurora Bellos isn’t much of a fighter but what she lacks in fighting skills she definitely makes for up in scheming her way out of a tricky situation. The spoiled princess we used to know died along her way to seek revenge. She has become a calculating and smart queen, doing anything in her power to reclaim what has been stolen from her. I love both of their development throughout this series so much because now, when I’m looking back to it, I can definitely see why people wouldn’t be very fond of them in the first place but I can assure you by now you’ll be rooting for them with all your power. I certainly can’t skip on King Gaius’ part, for this matter. I warn you now; you’ll be confronted with the most unnerving feelings for him than ever before. Whom you came to know as a soulless bastard may not be too soulless after all. Of course I don’t want to spoil anyone that’s why I’ll stop myself now, even though I’d love to take this discussions on another level because there’s so much depth and pain involved which are in dire need to be talked about. Let me just say that some revelations regarding his character turned the relationship between father and son upside down and them some. Next off, we have our ferocious rebel Jonas Agallon. I’m trying to keep this as short as possible; I never really knew how to place Jonas but with this installment his path seems to take on a great turn. After so many losses which shaped him as a man he finally comes to terms with who he truly is by embracing his role in this tale. Lucia Damora is being confronted with all the evils she committed upon innocents and, thereby, grows so much as a character. The girl I came to despise in the course of this series, consumed by her magic, shows true strength by turning her back on who she has been so far and trying to be better. After a long time I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her. Amara is the typical villain, or that’s how it seemed. Craving for power and showing her worth she murdered her family in order to claim her title as empress. But it’s the first time that we are able to see behind the curtains and get a closer look at a girl who can’t help but feel just a tiny bit of remorse of what she has done. and who’s struggling to keep on an indifferent facade in front of her subjects. Felix, coming in last, intrigued me since his very first appearance. A broken assassin, changing sides to redeem himself and avenge what has been done to him didn’t lose a bit of his sassiness and always managed to make me smile in the most inappropriate of times.

With new alliances and schemes being formed, a danger looming above their every heads and multiple kingdoms on the brick of war Crystal Storm will take you on a journey that will leave you craving for more. With every flipping of pages you will get sucked in a bit more until, eventually, you’ll find yourself in a world so beautifully written it will sweep you off your feet. All the while realistic and flawed characters will keep you constant company until the bittersweet ending. This and more will await you in this second to last installment in the Falling Kingdoms series.

Rating: 4.75/5

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