Though told in my favorite style of storytelling, The Kingdom failed to connect and lacked the character development I need to enjoy a story.
Rating: 2.75 stars
Author: Jess Rothenberg
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Release Date: May 28th, 2019
Synopsis: 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.
I feel slightly pedantic with my 2.75 star rating, but the truth is a 2.5 feels too low and a 3 feels too high of a rating. So here we are.
First, I’d like to mention that I read this book via audiobook and that was not the best choice I’ve ever made. Typically, I save audiobooks for rereads, but with my sudden obsession of the Libby app, I’ve been reading more and more books for the first time via audio. So far, I haven’t had any issues with keeping track of the stories as I listen along, but that all ended with The Kingdom.
Let’s start with a little recap of the story: The Kingdom is basically Westworld meets Disney. A large theme park, complete with stunning castle, is inhabited by Fantasists (AI Disney princesses) whose main function is to please park guests. The story focuses on Ana, a Fantasist who begins to experience thoughts and emotions that do not align with her programming. When a park employee is killed, Ana is accused of the murder. Through flashbacks, interviews, and court transcripts, we learn there is more to Ana’s story and a darker reason behind her conviction.
We all know that I am a total sucker for stories told through alternative formatting such as transcripts, hacked documents, etc., but it sadly did not work for me in this story. Not only was the story hard to keep track of while listening to the audiobook, but I honestly think that even if I had read the book physically, the muddled time system would have thrown me off. The naming of months after animals just felt weird and I was never able to really grasp what was happening and when.
Then there was the complete lack of connection to the characters. I never felt much for any of them. Not Ana, not her “sisters”, and not Owen. And my lack of connection is really saying something because there were some truly terrible things alluded to in this story, but it just never impacted me in the way it should have. The way the story was told through transcripts, etc., can’t be blamed for this lack of connection, because some of the books I feel the most strongly about are told in the same way (*cough*Illuminae*cough*). Part of it may be the always intangible “I just didn’t connect” thing that is unique to each person, but I think part of it was a lack of real character development.
The world building was interesting, if not a bit sparse in its description. I liked the idea of the Kingdom theme park, but as someone who has watched Westworld and Dollhouse numerous times, it felt like a well-trodden path that now lacked anything new to look at. Rothenberg managed to walk a fine line with keeping the subtle feeling of wrongness throughout the story. That is the main thing that stood out for me and I felt it was well done. From the unspoken things done to Ana’s sisters by park VIP staff to the horrific “meditations” taught to the Fantasists by their “Mother”, there is always that feeling of something really bad is happening here, and that helped propel the story on.
The Kingdom was an interesting read and I am glad that I took the time to read it. It had its issues with me, but I think there are people out there who will really enjoy this book. My only advice would be to read the book physically. And maybe borrow it from your library, just in case.