Thursday, August 1, 2019

REVIEW: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

The Kingdom
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.

This was one of my most anticipated books of the year! I loved The Catastrophic History of You and Me and I had been waiting years for another book by Jess Rothenberg! The idea behind this book is also so fascinating! The book is certainly unique and I was engrossed in this book, but the last half of the book felt rushed.

Ana is a Fantasist, one of seven engineered princesses in The Kingdom. She's an android, made to make park goers have a happy time, but she has just been accused of murdering a park worker, Owen. In a non-linear format, Ana tells the reader about the rot in The Kingdom and the growing love she has for her sisters and Owen, a feeling she should not be capable of.

The nonlinear format of this book was really interesting. The book intersperses transcripts from the trial, Ana's interview after the trial, Kingdom advertisements, and the actual story. It kept my interest going because I wanted to know how Ana got to the point where she is accused of murder and it was such a compelling argument too. The first half of the book is fantastic because it builds upon the world of The Kingdom, while in the background we are completely aware of the darkness ahead. I found The Kingdom to be incredibly fascinating and the premise itself is incredible and really innovative. The book creates a highly interactive theme park, a place where dreams come true, but twists it into a land of rot and deceit. To outsiders, it still is a land of wonder, but to Ana, it becomes a prison. It was incredible, and frightening, to see the land transform into this terrifying environment. The imagery and the weaving through these two different ideas was done wonderfully.

Of course, this book also has a sci-fi aspect to it, as the Fantasists are androids. The Kingdom is high in science fiction in itself because there are also other manufactured creatures and environments in the park, but the Fantasists are special. They look human and they look every inch a beautiful princess. People come from all over to greet them, but they are also feared because they are not human. Their goal is to spread joy, but they can't feel joy themselves. At least, that is what Ana is told. The book really tries to question human emotions and whether an android is equal to a human. The whole trial is actually not about whether Ana killed Owen, but it is whether Ana is capable of morals or if she killed Owen out of a malfunction. They're trying to argue that Ana cannot feel, but this book shows us the contrary.

Ana is a unique perspective. She has never been outside The Kingdom so her understanding of the world is also based on what the humans around her tell her (and she's not allowed to talk about the outside with the park guests). In this sense, she acts a lot like a child. She enjoys areas of the park and spending time with her sisters, but she starts to notice that things are off with her sisters. They don't seem as happy and some workers are mistreating them. Ana really grows throughout this book. I don't agree with everything she does, but she certainly grows in her ability to understand what is going on and she carries a strong sense of empathy. It really showed us that she is capable of love, not just romantic love, but she also loves her sisters and the hybrid animals in the park.

As the book got closer to the end it did lose me. Granted, I was still interested, but it felt like elements were rushed. The romance especially was not believable. Owen was not a very developed character and I did not understand his emotions towards Ana. I understand why Ana was quick to love him--In fact, her love for him is similar to love young--but Owen is an adult and there was not enough interaction for me to believe that he was in love with Ana. I could understand a friendship, but not a romantic relationship. It just happened so quickly and then it escalated to the ending. The ending was interesting and I loved the mystery leading up to it, even though I saw some parts of it coming, but it did not make sense. [highlight to view spoiler]They did this whole mess so that Ana could escape The Kingdom? But why is that the first thing that they think of? I know that it is difficult for Ana to escape, but I suspect that there were easier ways and really, so much could have gone wrong! Also, are we supposed to believe that they will now be together forever? Are we forgetting that she is an android and will never physically age? Owen was also too chill about everything which isn't really a good sign. [end of spoiler] I think I just wanted more attention given to the ending.

Overall, I have torn feelings for this book. I love the concept and I think the ideas here are really innovative, but I feel like it lost steam in the latter half of the book and that the romance especially wasn't fully developed. It is a particularly interesting world and it is frightening to think that with innovations in technology we would be able to create a theme park like this. I do hope Jess Rothenberg writes more books in the future.

I hereby give this book
3.5 Stars
Meaning: I liked it, but it wasn't quite amazing.

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