The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg – REVIEW

The Kingdom by Jess RothenbergWelcome 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.

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Macmillan.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

“We love to sing, and smile, and give. We never raise our voices. We always aim to please. We never say no, unless you want us to. Your happiness is our happiness. Your wish is our command.”

I read The Kingdom a couple of months ago after requesting a copy from the publisher. I hadn’t seen it mentioned on social media a lot so I wasn’t sure what to expect but the concept of a twisted Disneyland really appealed to me. The Kingdom is a fantasy theme park where technology promises your dreams can come true. Fantasists are half-human, half-android princesses imprisoned within the park and viewed by many as less than human. The moral questions invited by the text explored the ethical implications of technology, whilst feminist themes of consent, objectification, and sexism permeated the story.

“My whole life I’ve been taught to be sweet. Calm. Obedient. I’ve been taught that I am weak. But now … I realise that I am not weak. They only taught me to believe that I was.”

The narrative is centred around Ana, a fantasist accused of murder, and now on trial. Using court testimony, interrogation records, and fragmented flashbacks, the mystery behind her crime is slowly presented to the reader. The plot was well-paced, engaging, and thought-provoking, and kept me hooked from the very beginning. As Ana is finally allowed to tell her story to the wider world, the dark side of the theme park is exposed – the cruelty to hybrid animals, the implied rape of the fantasists, the objectification they experience daily, and the mental toll this takes, leading to instances of self-harm and suicide.

“In the end, it does not matter what a story is about. It only matters who gets to tell it.”

The blend of sci-fi, thriller, and fantasy works to create a nuanced examination of contemporary feminist and technological issues. It’s easy to envisage something similar to the Kingdom existing in the future, which is both terrifying and exciting. There are so many ethical implications and these can sometimes fall by the wayside in the rush for companies to build bigger, better, and more profitable creations. The Kingdom is a dark fairytale that engages the reader from beginning to end, posing uncomfortable questions, and encouraging the reader to question both the advantages and disadvantages of technology.

(Goodreads | Amazon UK | Book Depository)

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