“The Fallen Kingdom” by Elizabeth May

4.5 stars and a wholehearted, passionate recommendation that everyone read this series!

I cannot recommend this series highly enough — I absolutely adored it. I shed a few tears reading it. I couldn’t put it down. Elizabeth May grew the conflict with a deft hand, provided enough twists, and avoided the tropes that usually tear down a series like this. She also managed all that while conveying exponential character growth through myriad, messy, raw emotion, and developing beautiful, strong, and complicated character relationships.

If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, please read them and their respective reviews before proceeding. There will be minor spoilers ahead!

This book humanized every character, it broke them into their respective pieces and forced them to examine each one as they put themselves back together. It was fantastic — it was heartbreaking. It was raw, gritty, emotional, even slightly uncomfortable when I started to see parts of myself in each of the characters, including the characters I’d learned to hate.

And boy, did Elizabeth May manage to turn my hatred right upside down where it mattered most. This book closed a circle; it was the ouroboros, seeing where it has been and the journey it took with eyes opened by the very experiences gained throughout that journey. The levels of closure, the depth of connection created between each character and the reader, were truly phenomenal.

I know I said it in my previous review for this series, but it is extremely difficult to write such raw, full-bodied characters, especially when you’ve spent so much time crafting them into the antagonist. To so clearly craft a character arc, a journey of growth that provides true redemption and understanding, while intertwining perfectly with the narrative arc, is a mammoth sized mission not for the faint of heart. And yet, it is the key to a truly amazing book.

Plot is integral, but if it is not moved by the characters, it will not stand the test of time, no matter how intricate and well-thought out.

I’m extremely satisfied with the way these characters behaved in this book, especially so because May was able to avoid all the cliched tropes typically employed at this stage of the series, where our characters somehow give in and let go of all the growth and development they’ve undergone in order to make silly decisions and create more conflict. Despite new challenges from the events of the last book, each character still holds on to their growth, even if they struggle with it.

Kiaran’s dark side is unearthed, but reined in and thoughtfully employed to ensure that his character arc is not nullified. When Aileana comes to, she has no memory and must regain her identity, building from the foundation of bloodlust that once overwhelmed her. Aithinne begrudgingly takes up her duty once more and is prepared to make the hard decisions she once refused. The humans still remaining take their fates into their own hands and join the fight in earnest. The true and final destruction of the world tests them all, taking away their power and strength and forcing them to persevere in spite of their fragility, their humanity.

Their strength is found in what they once considered their weaknesses.

And the relationships in this book are heartbreaking, are realistic, and are true models for what love in any type of relationship should look like. I am so so relieved that May wrote a romantic relationship that doesn’t emphasize possession but rather choice and freedom, even when that choice and that freedom will end the relationship. Aileana and Kiaran, for all their struggles and differences, manage to truly treasure each other and demonstrate the deepest level of love, working to ensure that each is able to make the decisions they want or need to make, taking into account the other’s feelings when they need to, but always leaving the choice in the hands of the one making it. There are no silly ultimatums, no games. It was refreshing, it was a relieved sigh, it was a heart-wrenching sob.

Also, shout-out to the inclusion of relationships that aren’t heterosexual, without objectifying them or spurning them. Every small representation is important and valuable, working to normalize natural and healthy sexual orientations of all kinds instead of placing one above the others.

This series grew into an exploration of what it means to be human, what humanity truly is, our relationship with time, our understanding of ourselves (or lack thereof), and the nature of evil, all while maintaining the romance, adrenaline, adventure, and imagination that makes YA so enjoyable to read.

In the interest of not spoiling any of the major events and plot-lines in the books, I’ll leave this review at that. I cannot insist enough that you read this series, and when you do, come back here and tell me what you thought. I look forward to sharing it with you.