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The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg – Book Review #Gifted

As soon as I read the synopsis I knew I had to read The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg because it basically sounded like murdering cyborg princesses in a dystopian Disneyland. I mean, how awesome does that sound? I was lucky enough to be gifted an advanced reader copy (ARC) via NetGalley and this is my unbiased review.

The Kingdom Book Cover by Jess Rothenberg

Title: The Kingdom

Author: Jess Rothenberg

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Published: 11 July 2019

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Dystopia

Trigger Warnings: Self harm, implied rape/sexual abuse, animal abuse


“Welcome to the Kingdom, a dazzling fantasy theme park where ‘happily ever after’ is not just a promise, but a rule…”


The Kingdom – My Review

The Kingdom is a fascinating book that encompasses fantasy, mystery, science fiction and dystopia to create an unusual yet refreshing YA read. The premise of the novel is that the cyborg protagonist, Ana, is on trial for the murder of a staff member at the Kingdom theme park. Intrinsically, the question is did she do it and, if so, is she accountable for her actions? I love how the book makes the reader consider the philosophies of artificial intelligence in multiple scenarios. The novel flicks between the courtroom, interviews and Ana’s memories to piece together the mystery of Owen’s death.

“In the end, it does not matter what a story is about. It only matters who gets to tell it.” 


Characters

Ana is one of several Fantasists. Fantasists are effectively half-human, half-robot, Disney-esque princesses created to make the dreams of the Kingdom’s visitors come true. I found Ana to be an affable, thoughtful and intelligent character. Through Ana’s eyes we see how her programming works, for instance, how she scans people to read their emotions and thar she has a firewall which limits her search capabilities. It is really interesting when Ana begins to develop an awareness and emotions that go beyond her programming. Particularly her own reactions to her personal development.

I adored getting to know the different Fantasists and their relationships with each other. Ana is very close to Pania, who is basically the Kindom’s version of Ariel. I don’t want to say too much about Nia but her character progression is fascinating.

I found a lot of the relationships in the book to be very interesting. There is a great mix of characters including some that made my blood boil. All of the way through, you are made to question each characters motivations as there are a lot of secrets.


World Building & Structure

The world building in The Kingdom is well developed and immersive. I love the vastness of the park and can vividly picture all of the unique areas contained within it. It is clever that we don’t see much of the outside world as it makes the reader question what it is really like out there. Is The Kingdom really the jewel in a dark world or is the darkness coming from within?

The pacing throughout the novel is very good, as is how smoothly the story flicks between past and present. The story is very gripping! Each chapter is another clue to what happened.


Themes

Feminism and abuse are two key themes in the novel. Fantasists and hybrid animals are treated like commodities, to be done with as others please. I think that the treatment of captive animals is a very relevant topic today. If an animal is bred, even out of extinction, it does not give humans the right to do what they like with them. A comparison is definitely drawn between the captive animals and the Fantasists, both of whom deserve freedom and lives free from abuse.

“The are a great many things about the Kingdom I do not enjoy, even if I would never say so.”


I found certain scenes in the novel to be particularly upsetting as Ana faces many difficult situations. It is interesting watching her fight against her programming, although the circumstances where the fantasists may want to enter ‘safe mode’ are very affecting. There is a lot of manipulation by men including the Kingdom’s investors, the scientists, staff members…. However, the worst abuse is the allusion to rape and how it impacts the character involved. The fantasists are a vehicle to demonstrate that women are not there for the sole purpose of making men happy. Also, that we should not sacrifice our own happiness simply because we are ‘programmed’ to put other people first.


My Thoughts

The Kingdom has become one of my favourite books of 2019 and is a compelling read from the first page. I couldn’t put it down! I found the novel to be very thought-provoking as it poses a lot of moral questions. However, there is also plenty of action! There are a lot of unexpected twists to the story and I couldn’t guess how it would end. If you like stories about cyborgs such as Ex Machina or the idea of a dystopian Disneyland then The Kingdom is a must read!

“…happily ever after is the only ending there is.”

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