The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication date: 09 July 2019
Genre: YA dystopian fantasy
Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Kingdom, a YA fantasy dystopian novel guaranteed to get under your skin. Take a look at my review below, as well as the other stops on the blog tour!
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.
Here’s my unpopular reading opinion: I feel like the feminist dystopia subgenre hasn’t moved past The Handmaid’s Tale. While I really love that book, every feminist dystopian novel seems to be heavily influenced by it. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that The Kingdom is a fresh and unique take on the subgenre.
For me, this story is all about balance and Rothenberg did an amazing job of balancing sweetness and rot, fantasy and reality, and optimism and horror. The book is filled with beautiful imagery of a magical world where colours seem brighter, people are kinder, and all your wildest dreams come true, but there’s an undercurrent of rot and filth as soon as you look beneath the surface. The world isn’t subtly eerie and creepy — Rothernberg lets you know upfront that this place is unsettling and awful, particularly through Ana’s experience as a Fantasist (even the title is creepy!). I love that The Kingdom doesn’t pull any punches in this sense because it perfectly counterbalances Ana’s sweet and innocent nature — you spend the entire book with your hands over your eyes fearing for Ana as she slowly comes to realise the horrible things that are happening around her.
I thought that the addition of court testimony from Ana’s trial helped tease out the narrative by adding more, often less naive, voices form the humans around her — you really get a great sense of how awful Ana’s situation is, despite the fact that she may not realise it herself. The tragedy of the book is, unbeknownst to Ana, the treatment of the Fantasists and the other hybrids living in the park while they deliver human dreams and fantasies.
Ana herself is a really interesting character. I loved her growing perspective and her shifting understanding of her situation. The more she sees and experiences in The Kingdom, the more unsettled she gets, reflecting exactly what the reader feels. Rothenberg does a great job of balancing Ana’s naivety with intelligence and self awareness — there wasn’t a single point that I got annoyed with Ana and her innocence. I also really enjoyed the other Fantasists, particularly Nia, and how they interact alone versus among their caretakers and out in The Kingdom. With a well-rounded cast, the book really comes to life.
The ending of The Kingdom felt a little rushed, partially because I’m sure it was setting up a sequel, however I enjoyed the book overall. The Kingdom is a twisted, eerie tale that will keep your eyes glued to the page until the very end. I’m desperate to get my hands on the sequel!
CW: animal abuse and very, very (very) heavily implied rape
Want to pick up a copy of The Kingdom for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):