The Kingdom Review


The Kingdom is a tense, creepy descent into the dark underbelly of a glittering princess theme park.
Five stars for this coming-of-age sci-fi mystery.


Book Cover: The Kingdom

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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. 

~ ~ ~

When the reader enters the buoyant Disney-esque Kingdom (TM) for the first time, they’re already well aware that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

The novel opens on the aftermath of a murder. Interspersed with the (mostly) linear progression of Ana’s narrative chapters are records from “the trial:” courtroom and interview transcripts, email records, and even the occasional photo from evidence.

The Future Is Fantasist

This is the genius of The Kingdom. Author Jess Rothenberg doesn’t hide this world’s dark side from the reader. It isn’t a late-game twist for the reader that this theme park of genetically engineered wildlife and captive cyborg princesses is built on lies–because of course it is. You don’t have to be a literary genius to see that coming. Instead, Rothenberg leverages reader expectations into a sense of dread as we descend into the mystery alongside a protagonist much more naive than the reader.

That framework keeps the story firmly planted in Young Adult territory, even as it ventures into serious subject matter and demands attentive reading. At the end of the day, The Kingdom is a coming-of-age story. A glittering, dangerous coming-of-age tale of the Singularity.

While I personally was able to predict the broad strokes of the second half of the plot, I wouldn’t call the book predictable. (I’m in the camp that believes a great plot twist will be anticipated by about 25% of the audience, who see it coming but are still not sure exactly how it will play out.) The book’s format, which gives the reader far more information than Ana at any given time, anticipates that the reader may always be a little ahead of the curve. Rothenberg hints at twists with fairytale references and literary classic touchstones, rewarding careful reading and making the payoff wonderfully satisfying.

The ebook cover really leans into the Disney parallels… and also reminds me of The Continent?

It’s not a perfect book. The underbaked romance, in particular, is a weak point. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of story, this is one of the most well-plotted books I’ve ever read. Immediately after finishing, I had to go back and re-read the first few chapters, now with knowledge of the whole story. I was floored by how efficiently and subtly Rothenberg introduced key elements. This is a book that will reward rereads.

It feels strange to call a book with robot-princess-murder “subtle,” but there’s surprising nuance in the worldbuilding and characterization. Ana’s relationships with her “sister” Fantasists, in particular, are well-drawn, as is the slow reveal of the sinister “parents” that guide their lives. The “Kingdom’s” resemblance to Disney (its theme parks and princesses, etc.) is very obvious, but Rothenberg comes at the Disney connection from interesting angles that gave me a lot to chew on. In particular, I was interested in how perfectly Rothenberg invoked Disney’s recent pivot towards girl-power messaging and more active heroines. Like Disney, The Kingdom (TM) uses the language of empowerment to sell merchandise, touting be-tiaraed princesses as role models for future leaders.

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

Taken together, there’s something unsettlingly cynical about the story. Beneath the ballgowns and self-discovery, The Kingdom feels ambivalent about humanity’s nature and uncertain of the future.

What more could a Gen Z reader want?

~ ~ ~

Content warnings for The Kingdom include scenes of self-injury and implied off-page sexual assault. Highlight for more detail:

Sexual assault (implied, off-page, non-POV characters)
Self-injury/cutting (one brief scene of self-injury by POV character, on- and off-page self-injury by multiple secondary characters)
Character death (multiple secondary characters, “minors,” on-page homicide by POV character of villain)

2 thoughts on “Book Review: THE KINGDOM by Jess Rothenberg”

  1. You must’ve read my mind, I was just looking at this in my NetGalley list and up pops your notification email.

    I’m a bit more inclined to give this a go after reading your review. I’m a bit disappointed there’s a romance subplot in there (ugh, I hate romance!) so I might be content with it being half-baked! Haha.

    Fab review!

    1. Thanks so much!
      Yeah, it’s always annoying when there’s a romance crammed into a book that doesn’t need it. I get why it was there (it does have plot relevance) but I bet a lot of the same effects could be accomplished with a friendship arc between those same characters.
      The good news is that they don’t sink too much page time into the romantic aspect, so if you don’t love that you’ll get through it quick.

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