The Kingdom, Jess Rothenburg – Book Review

Hello Humans! I’m always on the lookout for books that feature AI so I can recommend them to my spouse. When I saw The Kingdom pop up, promising not only an AI, but also this creepy futuristic ‘disneyland-esque’ setting I knew I was in for something special. I went in not knowing what to expect and ended up hugely surprised. I’ll keep things as spoiler-free as possible but we really need to talk about this book.

The Kingdom

Goodreads Summary:

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.

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Content warning: self-harm, heavily implied rape (more on this later)

The Kingdom is set out as a series of court transcripts, documents and so such, with the brunt of the prose coming in ‘flashbacks’ to events set around 14 months prior to the trial of Ana, our main character, who is accused of murdering someone. What’s interesting is that Ana is an AI, a hybrid who’s job it is to wander the park like a princess would in Disney Land (it’s so clearly a Disneyland analogy – I don’t think we need to elaborate on that). Anyone who enjoys a ‘what does it mean to be human?’ ‘can AI’s fall in love?’ kind of book will surely fall head over heels for this story.

I’ve had a bit of time to process this book – some much needed time. Don’t be fooled by the (albeit gorgeous) cover (I’m looking at the UK) this book deals with some really difficult themes. If any book needs content warnings on the back cover it’s this one, and I’ll be looking to the publisher to advertise these themes more clearly. This story draws on the idea of autonomy, particularly female autonomy, with Ana and her sisters strapped into bed every night, given the illusion of freedom and having their memories tampered with when things go wrong. There is heavily implied rape on multiple occasions, though it never happens on the page. I think it’s important that we discuss these issues and it felt relevant to the story, it wasn’t for the sake of it – but it should be signposted more for readers and for booksellers.

Partly for that reason, I found myself comparing this book to the infamous Damsel, a YA book released within the last year that dealt with the idea of feminine autonomy in a more fantasy setting. I think this book is stronger simply because where Damsel felt like it was purely a story of ‘women have no agency isn’t that awful’ this felt like Ana took control of her story. Yes, there is a man and yes there is a romance but the nature of the book, looking back on events, really shows you how far Ana comes from her naivety in the earlier stages of the book (because of the lies and the gaslighting of the Kingdom) to the more developed character we see in the ‘present’. The character shift is at times a little unsettling (deliberately so) but it makes the whole story seem more triumphant, more impactful. I liked that you get that full arc right from the get-go.

It’s an interesting plot, but the setting was what really captivated me. The kind of façade of a theme park, that sense of ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘veneer’ really hit home in this book. It makes the book simultaneously even more of a fantasy and also almost a psychological horror (albeit a tame one).

This book manages to be very complete while still leaving things open for a sequel – I can’t see any listed on Goodreads but there is definitely the scope. All I can say is that I’ll definitely be reading it if there is.

Overall, this book is a dark, but fascinating read. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to cut as deep as it did and I hope that it can have a positive impact, starting important conversations beyond the usual questions about AI that science fiction can prompt. I look forward to reading more.

My rating: 4/5 stars

I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Kingdom is available July 11th

Find on Goodreads | Amazon (Affiliate)

What say you? What kind of content warnings do you expect to get from books? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

J

4 thoughts on “The Kingdom, Jess Rothenburg – Book Review

Add yours

  1. Wow, I really need to check this out! I totally passed it by because I’m not big on sci-fi, but I really love books that deal with heavy topics and especially if they do so tactfully. I love reading about darker topics and while yes, light reads are fun and fast, I feel the darker reads change my perspective and really make me think. Your review made me need to read this book. But also I think content warnings are important for people who may have an issue with the topics.

    Liked by 1 person

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