Thursday, March 26, 2020

REVIEW: The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

The Kingdom of Back

Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish—to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she'll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age—her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl's hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true—but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrically-told story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.
This was one of my most anticipated books of the year! Everything about this book just sounded fascinating! Little known history + magical realism + Marie Lu, it seemed like a recipe for a great book. I don't know if I over-hyped this in my mind or what, but I was disappointed by this book. Don't get me wrong, I did like the book and it gets a solid three stars, but I was expecting to love this book and I just didn't.

This book has two main components: the historical side, and the fantasy side. One was done well, one not so much. The historical storyline follows Nannerl Mozart, who is the lesser-known of the Mozart siblings, but also incredibly talented. We see her grow up from a young girl to a teenager as she tours with her brother. She is overshadowed by her brother and resents the fact that, as a boy, her brother is able to openly compose and Nannerl is not. Still, she has lots of love for her brother and has to handle the conflicting emotions. I loved how this book focused on Nannerl. I remember learning a little about her in my Music Appreciation class, but many people never learn about her. But even the focus on the Mozarts themselves was interesting as I have never read a YA book, or any fiction book, about the Mozarts!

Now, as for the fantasy aspect, I felt that it was really lackluster. It started out interesting enough, we have the magical world blurred into the real world slowly. Nannerl's interactions with the Kingdom of Back at first felt unreal, in a good way. As the book progressed, though, I noticed that we never really got worldbuilding for the Kingdom of Back, which made me less intrigued by the realm. Instead of seamlessly blending with the real world, it felt jarring whenever we traveled there because I never felt like I had enough information to understand it or its connection to our world. What disappoints me is that there were so many opportunities to show us this wonderful world but instead, we were told about things, or everything was just meant to be an obvious allegory. I did like Marie Lu's author's note where she mentions that the Kingdom of Back was a story the real Nannerl and Wolfgang (or Wolferl as he is called in the book) told each other while they were on tour. I found that to be incredibly interesting, but it made me wish I really connected with the world.

As for characters, I do feel like both Nannerl and Wolferl were well-developed characters. I especially loved how the book showed their relationship. Despite the gap in ages, they are incredibly close from traveling together. Nannerl does resent Wolferl, but it less because of him and more because he has more freedom than she does. This is difficult for Wolferl to understand and throughout the book he seems to be closer to Nannerl than she to him, which made some of Nannerl's decisions frustrating. I did feel like the gender elements were heavy-handed in the book because it was understood the struggles that Nannerl had as a girl in the 18 century the first few times she thought it. It did frustrate me that for a book that was discussed gender, Nannerl often goes off with a guy in the Kingdom of Back but I don't think this was romantic? I have a question mark there because it wasn't all that clear.

The book does have a middle grade feel throughout, namely because Nannerl is a pre-teen/young teen for most of the book. The atmosphere also reminded me of middlegrade. I was surprised by this, as the book is marketed as YA, but I adore reading middlegrade so I actually loved that it had that feeling to the story.

Overall, I did like the book but I really wish there was more worldbuilding in the fantasy sections. It was a fairly interesting read overall, and a highly creative story at that, even if I wasn't fully engaged in the story. I really liked the historical inspiration. This book did make me wonder if I am outgrowing Marie Lu's books. She used to be an auto-buy author for me, but both this book and Rebel have kind of let me down.

I hereby give this book
3 Stars
Meaning: I liked it

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