If you’re a long term fan of Marie Lu, then prepare to be wow-ed by The Kingdom of Back. A vast departure from Legend and Warcross, The Kingdom of Back is a historical fiction which asks us what women could achieve if we let their ambitions flourish. I am so happy to be sharing this book review with you all, because I couldn’t stop reading 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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the Bookish First. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
The Kingdom of Back begins with a hauntingly beautiful passage about music and ambition. I became completely enthralled by The Kingdom of Back. Not only are there passages that evoke musical memories, and a tender, if not complex, relationship between Nannerl and Wolfgang, but The Kingdom of Back is very much about the ways society limits women’s ambitions. The extremely talented Nannerl is always reminded of her place in society – the shelf life of her creative accomplishments. Time and time again her own genius is either stolen or put aside for her brother’s talents.
Nannerl is an extremely talented musician, letting the music guide her and spin her in a web of magic and light. But where Nannerl could shine is her composition talents. Fiercely ambitious, her number one fear is to be forgotten. Offered the opportunity to make her ambition real, Nannerl and Wolfgang are pulled into the Kingdom of Back, its dangerous pools of moonlight, and a mysterious new friend. The Kingdom of Back is a historical fiction with haunting nights full of dangerous nightmares and quests.
Siblings and ambition
I loved the sibling relationship between Nannerl and Wolfgang. It’s a relationship of love and tenderness, but also jealousy. What The Kingdom of Back makes clear are the external forces which cause tension between these siblings. The ways Nannerl is stifled by her family and society, the influences of malicious whispering, and the pulls of time and distance on our lives. Their relationship is one of my favorite pieces of The Kingdom of Back because her love for her brother is so strong.
Nannerl’s revolutionary wish
Lu makes it abundantly clear that Nannerl’s wish to be remembered is dangerous to the status quo. Her ambition is placed, at times, in direct opposition to the wishes of her father. The desire to be a legacy, to never be forgotten, as a woman is seen as a revolutionary wish. Her compositions threaten what she has been taught which is that composition writing is purely reserved for men, her own internalized patriarchy. The Kingdom of Back gave me serious A Room of One’s Own vibes. All the promises of women suppressed. Or the ways in which history chooses to cover up their contributions.
The Kingdom of Back is a story that illustrates the creative forces of women before society stifles their flame. Lu manages to balance this tension in our stomachs as we continue reading, while knowing how history is remembered. What could we do if we weren’t limited? If we lived in a kingdom of possibilities?