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.
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.
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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.
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
That framework keeps the story firmly planted in
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.
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
It feels strange to call a book with robot-princess-murder “subtle,” but there’s
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?
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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)