Book review: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

Title: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company

Publication date: 28 May 2019

Genre: Dystopian| Young Adult

Page extent: 352 pages

Goodreads blurb: 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.

This was one of my most anticipated reads this month, I have been giddy with excitement to read because it sounded so deliciously creepy and horrible. And it didn’t disappoint! Whilst I think it would’ve worked better with a less hopeful ending, I understand there will be a sequel which will continue this creepy and haunting not-so-far future world. 

The Kingdom is the world’s most magical theme park. Happy ever afters aren’t just a dream or wish, they are the rule. Ana is one of seven fantasists who work at the park, engineered to make people’s wishes come true. But there’s something wrong with the park. Below the seemingly perfect facade of the theme park, is a seedy and haunting layer. Fantasists are beginning to lose memories, the engineered hybrids (extinct animals who have had DNA merged with technology to bring them back to life) are becoming violent, and at the heart of all this is Ana. Ana, who spends her nights strapped to a bed so she doesn’t escape, who is always watched via camera, who has to create a secret language to talk with her sister fantasists and who, until now, hasn’t questioned her life. But Ana, along with the other hybrids, are beginning to change. And then she’s charged with murder. 

The Kingdom is broken up into Ana’s POV, where we see from her eyes the events before the trial, what led to the murder and her slow discovery and realisation of the horrors of the park; and then excerpts from the trial, from CCTV, and a post trial interview with the terrifying Dr Foster. I thought the way this was structured was absolutely fantastic. These glimpses of interviews allowed the reader to gain a glimpse of the horrors of the park before Ana realises, which meant we could see a lot of the creepy and darkness in the events of her POV before she did. This made for a tense reading experience and a state of shock and horror at what happens at the park and Ana’s naivety. These excerpts, in just a few pages, paint Dr Foster as this terrifying nightmare man. It’s fun realising the similarities between him and a certain character you meet in Ana’s POV and brilliant when you realise you were right and they’re the same person.

The Kingdom feels very dystopian in the way it questions society’s behaviour and treatment towards these hybrids who aren’t quite human. It raises questions about what makes something human: the ability to feel? To love? To kill? I did feel the ending let this intention down a little. It might just be me, but I kind of wanted a much darker ending that could really drive home this message about humanity’s darkness. The book felt very Black Mirror and I love that show because it doesn’t always have a happy ending, they showcase the truly awful parts of humanity and I kind of wanted more of that in the ending. I know there will be a sequel so the ending is setting up the next book, I just think this would be worked really well as a standalone. 

In saying that, I did really enjoy this book. It was creepy and dark and I thought the structure of Ana’s POV interspersed with these trial excerpts was fantastic! 

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

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