Name: The Kingdom
Author: Jess Rothenberg
Number of Pages: 340 (Paperback)
Published: July 11th 2019 by Pan Macmillan
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
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.
How to describe The Kingdom? It’s certainly very different from anything else I’ve read lately, and for that reason I enjoyed it. The Kingdom itself is a theme park designed to make dreams come true, which features formerly extinct hybrid species and also the Fantasists, princesses in beautiful gowns, also robots engineered to meet requests of the guests without question or comment. They’re kind, generous, and generally perfect. They’re programmed that way. In theory…
Ana is a Fantasist, one of the park’s creations, and at the centre of the tale, which begins with a murder trial. Apparently Ana has gone beyond her programming and killed one of the park workers, which raises many questions and concerns as such a thing should not be possible. The narrative switches between the trial transcripts and evidence, and the build up to the event itself, and this style kept me turning the pages because there was clearly more to it all than a straight forward case of murder.
Watching Ana go from something created to serve a theme park to experiencing emotions and engaging with people beyond the platitudes of her Fantasist role was interesting. Genuine thought and feelings, and awakening to the reality of her situation leads on to such as whether Ana has developed genuine human traits and whether she can truly feel emotions that may influence her actions.
The world of The Kingdom seems too good to be true – swimming with mermaids, seeing all manner of unique creatures, living out your dreams, and of course there’s more going on beneath the polished surface of this dream-like world, and this is revealed over the course of Ana’s trial and the recounting of the past. To say more would give away too much, but when things seem too good to be true, they usually are.
The Kingdom reminded me a little of Westworld, more so when it referenced the “Violent delights have violent ends” quote from Romeo and Juliet that featured in that series. I did enjoy this book – It was entertaining, with some interesting themes and ideas, and the Kingdom itself is both dreamlike and awful all at the same time.