Review: All Fall Down by Megan Hart

Initial reaction: I’ll likely rate this either 3.5 or 4 stars. Still need some time to think on the whole of it. I really liked the complexity of the characters and the various trials they went through in this novel. It’s a bit of culture shock for Sunny and her kids moving into her father’s family after leaving their old lives behind after a horrible set of events. It’s a multidimensional eye to many difficult subjects, though I felt the ending was a bit quick for the jarring conflict that happens toward the end. Still, I appreciated the entire read.

Full review:

I read this book in its entirety back in March of 2020, but I’m only now just returning to give my full reflections on the novel. Originally, I had received this novel as an ARC from NetGalley back in 2011, but the galley expired before I could ever finish it (hence why on Goodreads my reading dates are so far apart).

It’s not a secret that Megan Hart is one of my favorite authors for the level of depth and nuance that she gives the the stories she tells in any genre she’s writing in. The tale of “All Fall Down” centers on a controversial portrayal from the very beginning, trading between dual perspectives that have so many complicated layers that I found it hard not to be taken in by both of them.

Liesel is a woman who’s always wanted to start a family with her husband, but such an ambition had always been sidelined by her husband, Chris, who didn’t want any children. They have had multiple disagreements centering on the matter, and Liesel feels the weight of her fracturing relationship with Chris. At the same time, 19-year old Sunshine (Sunny) flees with her young siblings in the middle of the night at her mother’s bidding from a cult-like group in which all of the members die at the bidding of their leader. The intersection of Liesel and Sunny’s stories are at the core of this novel, and how the two of them intersect begins a complex, visceral experience of navigating family, relationships, love, culture, and trauma.

Sunny’s tale is particularly tragic on the level of having to untangle the life she was taught while in the Family of Superior Bliss and the world outside of the group. Sunny’s collective narrative recounts abuse and survivor’s guilt in the mix as well, some implied and other mentions overt. It’s not that she hasn’t had to interact with “Blemished” individuals, as she identifies those outside the “Family.” Rather, her interactions were limited and dictated by a stringent set of rules. So it’s a very different experience for her to show up literally on Liesel’s and Chris’s doorstep, recognizing Chris as her biological father alongside bringing her three siblings: Happy, Bliss, and Peace. I did find myself cringing to a certain extent hearing Sunny’s continuous naivete, but I understood where it came from. I felt for Sunny in so many moments of the narrative where she struggles to do the right thing by her family and siblings. It’s particularly heartbreaking knowing what happens to Sunny through the novel and getting to the point where she feels like there’s no path to move forward in what are mutually contradictory lives she’s been asked to abide by the rules of. Also having her social and moral expectations meeting up against violations that she struggles to comprehend.

Liesel’s journey through this novel has many complexities as well. Suddenly inheriting four children – including a newborn – is a task in itself, not to mention having to adjust to Sunny and her siblings’ approaches to the world/teachings. Liesel tries to embrace the experience as much as she can at first, but the weight of responsibility threatens to crush her. Chris’s approach and support to his newfound family is sporadic as well, which frustrates Liesel and causes many rifts between them. There were (read: many) times that I thought Liesel was selfish in her approach and assumptions, but I later understood that she was neither prepared, nor fully equipped, to be able to deal with everything. Hart’s writing peels back layers of both Liesel and Sunny’s psyches, to the point it feels so realistic and jarring when you observe events through their viewpoints. I loved that level of detail and depth in the overarching story, as much as it hurt to read at times.

I thought the ending of “All Fall Down” came a bit too quick given the steady build-up of tensions paced through the novel. Still it ended on a note that I felt could either lend to another story or at least give a hint of progression in both Liesel and Sunny’s narratives. I felt it was very much worth the time taken to read and it’s a story that I’m glad – among others – to have in my personal library. My recommendation for it is for those who enjoy slow burn, character driven stories, with an eye to contradictory worlds and reckonings between characters who are heavily flawed.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher Harlequin MIRA, but I also own a copy of this book in my personal library.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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