Book Reviews

Review: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

It’s been a while since I’ve been so absorbed by a book, but The Kingdom completely gripped me. I couldn’t put this book down!

Summary

Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom(TM) 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.

Review

(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: self harm

The Kingdom is like a combination of some of my favorite tv shows, “Westworld” and “Dollhouse”. It is full of mystery and ominous vibes that completely captivate you, but where The Kingdom really shines is its discussion of humanity and agency. The mystery of who murdered Owen pulls you through the entire book and what ends up occurring is that the reader begins to wonder what how human Ana is.

The Kingdom is told through transcripts and time jumps which gives the readers a unique feeling as the countdown to the trial. The events leading up to the trial are slowly revealed through Ana’s memories or her interviews. It’s like witnessing a car crash in reverse. Knowing where the train is heading, we see the chips in the armor, the cracks from smaller incidents that led to the tsunami.

Humanity

Which brings me to my favorite part of The Kingdom – its exploration of humanity. As we count down to Ana’s trial, it becomes clearer that it’s not so much a question of Ana’s guilt, or innocence, but whether the court can judge if Ana has the agency, the emotions, the intentions to commit the murder.

Throughout the book Rothenberg shows us the different ways the humans treat Ana and her sisters from the sexual harassment, to the treatment of her sisters when they act out of line, all the way to Ana’s own emotions. We realize that until the end, Rothernberg is allowing us both a seat on the journey, and a view from within Ana’s perspective.

Can Ana and her sisters feel emotion? Love another person? Act with their own agency and not merely in reaction to something they have witnessed?

And what’s even more clever is that Rothenberg dissects this issue through various lenses – hybrid creatures, people with mechanical implants, and Ana and her sisters. There’s all this material for truly rich conversations about humanity, the line between that and monstrosity, between agency and emotions.

Overall,

The Kingdom is a gripping and unique book that will hook you. If you liked “Westworld” or “Dollhouse” I am confident you will enjoy Rothenber’s exploration of humanity and the rule of our human creators. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then The Kingdom nevertheless delivers a stunning and ominous story of agency and love.

Find The Kingdom on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound & The Book Depository.

Discussion

What is your favorite science fiction novel that discusses humanity? I could talk about this forever.


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