Book: The Kingdom
Author: Jess Rothenberg
Year Published: 2019
- Plot: 4/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Writing: 4/5
- Overall: 4/5
Trigger Warnings: suicide, sexual assault (off page, implied), animal abuse
This book wasn’t just a bit dark and disquieting- it took me to a whole new level of sinister that I had never experienced before.
The Kingdom was a futuristic theme park that used cutting-edge technology to create an enchanting experience for all of its visitors. With thrilling performances from previously extinct creatures, magical rides, flamboyant parades and vivid fantasy simulations it promised to inspire wonder and make everyone’s wildest dreams come true by giving them the ‘happily ever after’ they deserved. One of its most prominent creations was the Fantasists– seven android princesses engineered to delight, amuse and represent equality and tolerance in the world.
The novel was a series of flashbacks, interrogation records, court testimony, emails and more which pieced together the story of Ana, a Fantasist who was accused of murdering one of the theme park’s maintenance workers. This format allows us to see the events unfold from her perspective and simultaneously see how the same events have been twisted to appear in court. It’s funny how there never is any question as to whether or not she actually killed the person even though she claims to be not guilty. The case is built on whether or not Ana had the conscience to make the decision to murder someone or whether it was a programming malfunction. It was fascinating to see things from her perspective and understand her methodical manner of learning about the world. As Ana gradually unearths the hidden terrors of The Kingdom, the reader does too and it makes for a very suspenseful journey.
I found it sad that a society of the future would feel the need to have Fantasists. Beautiful, subservient princesses, admired by girls all over the world, engineered and programmed to entertain and please, to always say ‘yes’ and never say ‘no’. And the irony was that they were represented as strong and brave– princesses who didn’t need saving- when in reality their lives were not their own. Their vulnerability and naivety was exploited, they were treated deplorably, they were emotionally abused and manipulated, they were harassed and assaulted and intimidated. They were objectified and paraded and displayed for the enjoyment of others and despite all of that, they were always told to be grateful for what they had. Is that really the kind of role model young girls should have? I also found it interesting that there were no male Fantasists. It reminded me of two articles I have read recently. The first was about the increasing popularity of artificial intelligence being modelled on female personas (for example things like Siri or Alexa having default female voices). The second being about the increase in parents banning their children to watch Disney princess movies because they don’t want them to think it is alright for a woman to always be saved by a man. Although The Kingdom is a work of fiction, it has some very real themes in it.
The Kingdom was the epitome of hypocrisy. At first glance, it seemed like a wonderful theme park- but beneath it’s pretty façade there was relentless anguish and pain. For example, at the time of the novel, nearly all of the animals we have today had gone extinct. Therefore, The Kingdom started a program to revive extinct creatures through bioengineering. They claimed they were doing good to the planet and helping preserve our world. But why would you reintroduce an animal only to put it in chains? To make it live a life in a cage being ogled at by visitors. The animals at The Kingdom were abused and starved and most of the bioengineered animals died in days, weeks or months due to genetic defects they were created with. Is that really helping the world? It repulsed me how they thought it was alright to make the cost of entertainment for some, the suffering of others.
The reason I knocked off a star was because at times the story did become a bit too confusing as it kept switching between different formats which made it hard to keep up with the plot.
Overall, I found The Kingdom very creepy but I would recommend it to someone looking for an original, thought provoking read. After reading it, some may wish for the chance to visit The Kingdom but I wouldn’t go there even if someone paid me. Why? Because my entertainment is not worth someone or something else’s pain.
Thank you to Macmillan and Jess Rothenberg for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinion expressed are my own.