The Long-Awaited Review: The Kingdom, by Jess Rothenburg

Yay for sci-fi fantasy stories that have strong and unusual heroines!

I adored the Westworld TV series, and to be fair, it was only a matter of time before somebody adapted the idea for a book. A YA book. A YA book that is also Disney-themed.

In short, what more could you want from any story, ever?

I’ve been fizzing with impatience to write this review, but I’ve had a schedule to stick to. Now it’s time to give this book the love it deserves from this blog.

So. The Kingdom is a riff on Disneyland, where people from around the now climate-ravaged world come to explore the arctic, aqua parks and even jungles. And it’s populated by Fantasists: human-robot hybrid princesses who are programmed to make every guest’s dream come true. But what happens when the Fantasists start to think from themselves? And what happens when one is accused of murder?

Where to start with this? Anna is a great heroine: there’s just enough robot-ness in her narrative to make you believe that she’s other, that you can’t quite predict her actions. But at the same time, her naiveté and innocence come across very clearly. She’s a flawed central character who wants to do the right thing, and the interactions between Anna and her ‘sisters’ comes across very clearly.

Rothenburg’s great writing makes this even better. The story is cleverly told across multiple viewpoints: the courtroom scenes, the transcripts of Anna being interviewed, and Anna’s recollection of what actually happened. It draws you in, and the courtroom scenes add a dark frisson to Anna’s pastel-pink world at The Kingdom, which gradually gets darker and darker as we find out just what’s happening behind the scenes at the park.

The Kingdom also takes the time to ask from intelligent questions of its readers. Such as, to what extent are we responsible for our actions? To what extent are robots responsible for their actions? And what does it mean if they are- does that make them humans? Seeing as we’re barrelling down to the track to a future of this kind in a few years time, these are interesting things to make us think about.

Aaand the plot itself. The build-up is amazing; I was absolutely hooked. The payoff and the ending was a little less so- it felt rushed, and the ending felt too abrupt, especially the shock reveal towards the end of the book. But these are small quibbles, and I was already wayyy too deeply invested to care about that. Jess Rothenburg has written a romantic, interesting, and far too addictive book, and I’m hooked. Sequel, please!

 

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