Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory

Rating: 1/5 stars

I’ve read a lot lately. I keep going back to that one genre that women are famous for loving: romance. I am powerless to its beck and call.

But this particular romance/novel, Fallen Skies, really crawled under my skin. Or even this author, as I cannot imagine wanting to read any more of her books after this. Yes, I realize she’s the one who wrote The Other Boleyn Girl, which is popular. Sad to say though, I am not going to read that book. Now, or ever. This book left such a bad taste in my mouth that I don’t want to try another Philippa Gregory book. It is narrow-minded, that much I admit, but there it is. I might change my mind in the future.

But getting back to Fallen Skies, it is about World War I, a veteran of that war and the aftermath. It started off so well that I thought I was in for a good story, but I was wrong. By the time I was halfway through, things started to get a little off, very subtle at first, so that I could dismiss them, but in the end the ridiculous plotting became a different monster altogether and left me pretty angry.

My first gripe is the characters. I disliked pretty much everybody. I liked the war hero at first but his character became progressively sloppy as the book went on and was a shell of what he could have been. He was made to be the bad guy. Gregory wanted him to look like the bad guy but I never saw him as one at all. I mean, come on, the guy was in World War I for crying out loud. It’s understandable that a war veteran would have issues, especially back in the 1920s when society wasn’t as open about them as we are now. So her attempts at making me think he was a really bad guy through his issues (he can get really jumpy and weird to temperamental and violent) didn’t jive well with me.

Next, I hated the wife. I have never read a more detestable character. She was passable in the beginning, but she grew worse. Ironically, she was the protagonist. She was a girl with no compassion, no thought, no feeling for anybody else’s suffering beside her own. She was also 17, which accounts for the fact that she may have been too young and immature to handle what life threw at her. But wow, I could not stand her. She was pretty selfish, all she cared about was her singing career. I did not like the guy she was in love with (who, surprise, wasn’t her husband). This guy was obviously the antithesis of the war veteran (and it was pretty obvious which just added fuel to my fire) because he was OH SO PERFECT. He was good-looking, had all the right connections, had many friends, was a “gentleman,” had no flaws, and pretty much written to do no wrong. Boring.

And I did not like the story, or the ending. It felt contrived. It was obvious all along who did it because Gregory lined up the cards in such a way that only a completely clueless person can guess wrong. Lastly, and this is the most offensive of all, nothing really made sense to me. The characters were inconsistent, and things happened so arbitrarily that I felt as if Gregory was manipulating events so that they can eventually serve as justifications for other events in the book. Manipulating events is fine, hey, that’s what a plot is essentially, but the plot became very chaotic from the inconsistencies that the book never made any logical sense to me. So much so that I became angry at how she portrayed these characters. For example, the veteran was a powerful character. He was off his rocker, but he was forceful. He pretty much called the shots (until of course, things changed with a miraculous recovery but that’s neither here nor there). But why, why would he just relent when it came to the naming of his son? I never understood that. He didn’t like the name, it was so easy for him to lay down the law about it but he didn’t! As the father, he had the right to veto it, but by this point, he was turned into a meek and pathetic character (due to his issues), but the abrupt change in characterization didn’t make sense! He had his issues from the beginning of the book. He started off strong and then he just turned pathetic. Why?

Not only that, but if Gregory wanted to portray the descend of this man’s sanity, there are better ways of doing it. She never explained exactly why the veteran became weirder. We are supposed to infer that the events that happened in-between drove him over the hill, but I don’t agree how those events could make him the villain. (Major spoiler alert here) He was jealous of the guy that his wife was in love with but you know what? If I was a man and it was blatant that my wife didn’t love me (but I love her) I think I’m justified in a little jealousy and justified to act the jerk. Not that I condone it, but I understand why a guy could. But the book never acknowledged this reasoning. It stuck with the view that because this guy acted out, he was unforgivable. True, he wasn’t a saint, but his actions came from a place of desperation because he had his war issues and because his family was so repressed. He didn’t act out just because he was a douchebag for no reason.

It doesn’t help that his wife was also the coldest, vapid, immature and selfish character that I’ve ever read. She just refused to understand why he could be the way he was. And we are supposed to root for her? Why? Because she never loved him and never asked to be married to him? So, that justifies the inability to have compassion? At one point, the husband said to her, “Help me. It’s what I married you for.” That should have been a tip-off that there was something wrong with him. But the wife had no sense to see that he might be weird because he was struggling with the demons of a war.

Yes, I understand that it’s difficult to be married to someone you don’t love. But the veteran here did reach out early in their marriage that he is not as he seems. The wife just never had the compassion, even the human decency, to hear him out. That is when I just couldn’t root for her anymore.

I realize though that this was Gregory’s first attempt at a novel (or so I’ve read) but it was not good. I’m disappointed of the awful characters, the manic plot and the uneven writing. Most of all, I’m disappointed because of the lack of logical sense. I wish I had a good example to explain this because I know how pompous that sounds, but I don’t remember the details needed to explain this. Safe to say that I did not enjoy this work at all. I would not recommend this even to die-hard Philippa Gregory fans.

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