This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
Note – This review will contain spoilers of Falling Kingdoms, the first book in the series.
I did not realize until after I’d read Falling Kingdoms and Rebel Spring that Morgan Rhodes is the pen name of Michelle Rowen. Rowen wrote Coutdown, a book I read a few months ago and really disliked. (You can see my review of Countdown here.) I’m glad I didn’t know this until after reading the books, because I would likely have approached this series with a much more critical eye and lowered expectations. Instead, I went into the story with the open mind one has when reading a “new to you” author.
At the end of Falling Kingdoms, the first book in this series, King Gaius increased the span of his empire, and Cleo, with her family dead, is sort of politely imprisoned by Gaius. She keeps her princess title as Gaius attempts to make the conquered people of Auranos believe that he is a good and just ruler. For reasons only Gaius would understand, he appoints the detestable Aron as kingsliege. He has one more plan for Cleo, and once that is accomplished, he believes his rule will be secured.
But a faction of rebels, led by Jonas who’s still seeking to avenge his brother’s murder, isn’t buying what Gaius is selling. Their odds of dethroning the king with a small band of rebels are low, but Jonas sees an opportunity to strike when the royals will be distracted by a most merry event.
The interesting thing about Rebel Spring (and Falling Kingdoms, too), is that the plot is very well-done: good pacing, exciting, and some surprising twists. World-building is also done well, and we get a good sense of the lives of the people in their former factions, and what this unity under Gaius means to them. But while so much of this story works well, the characters are extremely weak, in comparison. Most of the males are unappealing, ranging from idiotic, surly, sullen, enraged, drunk, or flat-out evil. The couple of them that we’re supposed to like have personality flaws that are hard to ignore and make them pretty unlikable.
Prince Magnus, the heir to King Gaius, is still in love with his sister, Lucia. (“She was adopted!” we’re reminded. ”It’s still disgusting!” I reply), but it’s mercifully toned down a bit. Magnus seems to finally get the hint that his sister doesn’t love him like THAT, but he still bitches and moans and swings his sword around like an angry toddler.
Aron and Gaius are so terrible, we know it can only be a matter of time until they get their just deserts. In the meantime, Aron enjoys being drunk and obnoxious and even commits an attempted rape. (Incidentally, another rape between two main characters is strongly alluded to earlier in the story, but we later learn the male didn’t go through with it.) Gaius gets his fun by keeping his subjects terrified and doling out executions on a whim for the slightest offense.
The possible saving grace for the men is the visiting Prince Ashur, who has the potential to be very, very interesting, especially if he eventually gets entangled with a certain character. I’m hoping he has a more significant part in the next book.
The female characters fare better, but the personalities of Cleo and Lucia could be interchangeable. Both are very serious, strong-willed, and brave, yet occasionally naive. There is not a lot to tell them apart aside from Lucia’s wicked magic skills. In their first meeting, the two behaved like petty, catty, spoiled brats, but later on, we’re given reason to believe that they may be able to set their differences aside.
Because the characters are not well-developed, it’s not a surprise that the romances that spring up seem to come with very little build-up and even with some declarations of mutual hatred immediately beforehand. They also are not always as smart as they could be. One character had a very specific and critical task to accomplish, but senselessly decided to deliver a speech rather than merely take action. Unsurprisingly, the results were disastrous.
I think the best way to approach this series is the way you would with a film like Troy (Brad Pitt): Enjoy the action and the story, and overlook the bad acting.
Note – I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.