The wealth of queer and POC representation is by far one of the best things about the book, but there’s far more to it than just that. The worldbuilding and the conflicts created by the king’s refusal to pass the crown to one of his descendants are strongly drawn. Because the king ordered that the Five-Faced God’s Face of Change be darkened and no longer worshipped, nothing is allowed to change. No new inventions can be introduced, nor can the conditions in the city’s slums be improved to give the residents better lives and stop the deadly fever that runs rampant there every year. Only the richest and the nobility can afford to be resurrected by the blue-eyed necromancers, so they just have to deal. The commentary on class is light, but it is there.
Reign of the Fallen is divided into three especially distinctive acts, which I’ve called the Set-up, the Grief, and the Unraveling. The Set-up begins and ends with dead necromancers, one of them being main character Odessa’s lover Evander. This first third is the strongest of the three acts by far, as the Grief sees little plot progression and the plot reveals in the Unraveling are too predictable to pack much punch. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining read.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
The novel’s most severe sticking point is in how someone’s eye color determines what kind of magic they have. Anyone with blue eyes can cross into the land of the dead and resurrect people, green-eyed people can control a specific animal they become bonded to, grey-eyed people can affect the weather, and hazel-eyed people can heal. Brown-eyed people are implied to have a knack for inventing things, but it’s not written like magic as much as it is a skill.
Maybe this all-important bit of worldbuilding shouldn’t be so heavily reminiscent of the Nazis’ eugenics- and racism-fueled obsession with eye color? That they thought blue-eyed people were The Best is really well-known, as are the fact they had hair and eye color charts that were supposed to determine someone’s race. There’s also been a pyramid eye color chart on social media that classifies what someone is meant to be or do based on their eye color, which could only be more obvious as Nazi propaganda if the word was slapped onto the image.
Reign of the Fallen does essentially the same thing but with magic right down to how the blue-eyed necromancers are so valuable to the nobility that they have their own rooms in the palace and brown-eyed people are unable to contribute any of their technological know-how due to any changes or new inventions being outlawed. This is something that really should have been researched further before it was implemented as the heart of the novel’s magic system.
For anyone who enjoys this entertaining, complicated novel, its sequel Song of the Dead has already been released and will be waiting for you. Were it not for the ill-thought out magic system, I’d be giving this novel much more praise. As long as you can put that out of mind, Reign of the Fallen is plenty of fun.