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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

SPFBO 9 Finalist review: The Fall is All There Is by C.M. Caplan


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: C.M. Caplan is the author of the SPFBO7 semifinalist The Sword in the Street, SPFBO9 FINALIST The Fall Is All There Is. He's a quadruplet (yes, really), autistic, and has a degree in creative writing. He was awarded his university's highest honor in the arts for his work.

Find Connor online: Facebook

The Fall is All There Is links: AmazonGoodreads



The Fall Is All There Is is a wonderfully weird, unapologetically unhinged, and darkly entertaining gendreblendy gem of a book. It throws all genre conventions and reader expectations straight out the window, and that is exactly where its irresistible charm lies.

Five years ago, Petre Mercy fled the royal drama and petty politicking of his family home on a cyborg horse, and he had no intention of ever looking back. But then his dad, the King, had the audacity to die, and with a set of quadruplets as heirs, the line of succession is just a tiny bit messy. Soon Petre is sucked back into an intricate web of deadly political schemes and emotional family feuds as he has to decide which of his siblings deserves his pledge of fealty; if there is any right choice at all.

Within a couple of pages I just knew that The Fall Is All There Is was going to be a book for me. Petre’s intoxicating and disturbingly intimate first person narration immediately pulled me in, and he has quickly shot up to the top of my list of favourite SFF protagonists. As a neurodivergent gay man who lets his emotions rule his actions and who acts before he thinks, he is not the most conventional or even likeable fantasy protagonist. But dammit, if I didn’t love him with all my heart!

Caplan did an absolutely magnificent job of portraying Petre’s chaotic and frenetic headspace, and I loved the moments of quirky writing where Petre almost breaks the fourth wall and asks you directly if you know what he is feeling. He demands you to place yourself in his shoes, and that did absolute wonders for my investment and immersion. The panic, the fear, the anxiety, the hyperfixations, the frustration, the hysteria, the bewilderment, the anger, the paranoia; I related way more deeply to Petre’s intense emotions than I would probably like to admit, and I was honestly revelling in the chaos of it all.

And it’s not only Petre who just absolutely shines, but all of the impressively nuanced side characters simply stole the show as well. The messy and complicated interpersonal relationships were without a doubt my favourite aspect of this story, be they familial, romantic, platonic or something nebulous in between it all. I was honestly gobbling up all the delicious interpersonal drama, and I have no shame in admitting that I was constantly cackling out loud at the hysterical interactions and effortlessly funny dialogue (Fabrian is a GEM!).

What’s more, all that exquisite character work doesn’t come at the cost of some brilliant and honestly batshit crazy world building. With this being set in a post-post-apocalyptic world, the flora and fauna of this world was truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I adored the air of mystery and intrigue that’s embedded into the world building, and I was fascinated with how technology, science, and magic were all so intricately interwoven to create some of the most mind-boggling concepts I have ever stumbled across in SFF (hi ghostfog, exploding cyborg horses and flesh eating plants).

Now, as much as I adored Petre as a protagonist, there were some moments where I almost wished we had gotten some additional perspectives to make things a bit less confusing. We only know as much as Petre knows, and it just so happens that he is completely out of his depth for large parts of this confoundingly complex story. To me, this made the (political) plot feel a bit muddy at times, and especially near the hectic climax of the story I started to lose some of the threads.

That said, this story is so deeply character-driven that I truly didn’t mind the little stumbles in the plot and pacing all too much. Ultimately, I was just so deeply in awe (and maybe slightly frightened?) of Caplan’s wildly exciting imagination, and I could not stop turning the pages. I honestly thought I would never find another reading experience that would come close to Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb series, but The Fall Is All There Is might have just done so. And trust me, that is the highest of high praise for me.

The Fall Is All There Is was simply a true delight to read, and I will be counting down the days until I can return to this magnificently mystifying world and deeply flawed yet inexplicably endearing characters. If you think the SFF genre has nothing new to offer anymore, please do yourself a favour and pick up this wholly original and refreshingly unconventional political scifantasy novel!


It’s a wild one. Petre Mercy, the youngest of the autistic royal quadruplets, ran away from home at eighteen. After his father dies, Petre is summoned home to the chaotic life at court he’d fled from years ago, to sort out the line of succession. Each of his siblings wants him to pick their side, and one wrong move could ignite a civil war. Especially since Petre’s siblings are a curious bunch. 

Desmon Mercy, who was trained from a young age to be the family's ambassador, excels at forging alliances and business deals but has a bit of a superiority complex.

Edgar Mercy speaks in very clipped, controlled sentences, and is more than a little confrontational. Also, charismatic enough to have built up a bit of a cult following. 

As for Anoïse Mercy, the eldest of the quadruplets and the current Queen, she struggles to be as decisive as she'd like to be. She's deeply committed to upholding her father's memory and fulfilling her birthright, even though it has already cost her a great deal. 

To say their unique family dynamic is complicated would be the understatement of the year. 

Apart from being absolutely bonkers, The Fall is All There Is is hard to categorize. You might call it post-apocalyptic science-fantasy but that doesn't quite capture its essence. In this world, science allows to enhance people's physical abilities and reflexes (dear lord, the injections scenes!), but there's also a significant element of magic. Right from the beginning, we learn that magic was responsible for the world's fall thousands of years ago during "The First Annihilation," which reshaped the world in bizarre ways. Survivors managed to create incredible scientific marvels but tragically misused them during "The Second Annihilation," plunging themselves back into a primitive existence. The people of today live in a world pieced together from the remnants of these two catastrophic events. Science clashes with magic, magic with science, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which and where are boundaries.

The book opens with a gripping and attention-grabbing first line that immediately establishes a sense of tension and unease. Petre's distinct voice (1st person POV) creates a compelling narrative. Petre is a hot-mess and his Caplan finds a way to effectively convey his complex emotions and inner conflicts. Now, perhaps, less screaming during family meetings would make things smoother but don’t count on it 🙂 As mentioned, Petre’s family dynamic is unique. 

The pacing of the book is well-managed - the initial tension builds gradually as the protagonist grapples with his new circumstances. The tension continues to escalate, and a sense of anticipation and urgency drives the story forward. I think Caplan effectively integrates world-building elements without tormenting readers with huge blocks of exposition. 

In terms of critique, parts of the story could benefit from clearer transitions between different sections to ensure a smoother flow of the narrative. Additionally, Petre's inner monologue occasionally becomes convoluted and lacks clarity. Perhaps simplifying some of the complex sentence structures and streamlining the narrative could help maintain clarity and make the story more accessible to readers.

Overall, I enjoyed The Fall is All There Is. It’s wild, unpredictable, and contains enough twists and turns to keep readers' attention.




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