The Kingdomby Jess Rothenberg
Published on May 28, 2019
by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Format: ARC, Hardcover
Source: Amazon Vine, Library
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Welcome to the Kingdom... where 'Happily Ever After' isn't just a promise, but a rule.
Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered species--formerly extinct--roam free.
Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful "princesses" engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first time... love.
But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana's memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and cruelty--and what it truly means to be human.
Don’t let the pastel colored cover fool you. The Kingdom is a dark, twisted look at several things: human perception of what makes something real or not, abuse of power, and making fantasy reality. This is Ana’s world.
***Minor Spoilers Ahead***
This is an ambitious novel. Tackling the subplots through Ana’a narration and logs from a trial where Ana is accused of murder, The Kingdom reads like a twisted fairy tale. There is the constant question of what makes any of the park’s Fantasists and the creatures which call it home real, which is its strongest point. Can any of the Kingdom’s inhabitants have emotions? It’s one of the philosophical debates that has been asked in science fiction before and something that has always interested me.
Ana is an interesting narrator. She is programmed to be docile and charming, a beautifully tranquil dream come true. Reading about hers and her sisters’ experiences was uncomfortable, which is exactly what it was going for. The illusion hides the dark underbelly. People see Fantasists as objects. Some of her sisters are pushing against their roles. Technical issues are cropping up. At the same time, the narration is also distancing. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it was a compelling way that kept me reading.
Her romance with park employee Owen left little to be desired. They meet, she’s fascinated by him. There’s mentions of her fascination turning into something more sinister, but this is all through the trial transcripts, so, again, it’s distancing. However, seeing as this is a twisted fairy tale, her feelings for him make a little sense in regards to why she falls in love.
Since the trial logs splice between Ana’s memory of events, it can get jarring jumping from the past to the present. The ARC (and finished copy) attempt to keep the reader aware of when exactly we are in time with chapter headings, but some of these were also confusing since I don’t know exactly what they mean. There is, for example, “The December of the Hyacinth Macaw — Twenty-One Months Before the Trial” or “The May of the Cape Starling–Sixteen Months Before the Trial.” I wanted to know what these headings were–is it Ana’s calendar? The Kingdom’s?
While I had some issues with the leaps back and forth in time, I found The Kingdom fascinating. It’s a book recommended for readers who like dark stories.