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The Kingdom | Jess Rothenberg | Review

Welcome to The Kingdom... where 'Happily Ever After' isn't just a promise, but a rule.

The Kingdom is a place where dreams come true. A futuristic fantasy theme park where extinct animals are brought back to life and the park's Fantasists, seven beautiful, lifelike, android princesses, are programmed with only one goal in mind: to ensure the happiness of the park's guests. Ana and her Fantasist sisters know all about how terrible the world outside The Kingdom is, so they understand how important their role is in brightening the lives of those who visit them in the safety of The Kingdom, but things are starting to go wrong. Some of Ana's sisters are starting to malfunction, and before long Ana begins to wonder if she is too. Ana starts to feel things she hasn't been programmed to feel. In particular, she thinks she may be falling in love with Owen, one of the park's human employees.

So how is it that Ana comes to be accused of Owen's murder? As the trial unfolds, Ana is not the only person being judged. Can Ana be guilty of murder if she is only able to do what she is programmed to do? How much responsibility does The Kingdom hold if it has created girls who can murder of their own free will? Were Ana's sisters malfunctioning at all, or did they simply understand something that Ana didn't? And can dreams really come true in a place that hides so many dark secrets?

The Kingdom tells Ana's story non-chronologically, skipping between transcripts from Ana's trial, news reports, and Ana's memories of the events leading to her alleged killing of Owen. At times, this method can be a little confusing. As Rothenberg saves all of the important details to be unfolded and revealed at precise moments, it does mean that it takes a while for enough of the details to fall into place so that the reader can actually figure out what's going on. However, it also means that details can be saved until the exact moment when they will have the most impact, and in that regard Rothenberg absolutely nails it. More than once I found myself wide-eyed as another piece of Ana's puzzle slotted into place.

The layers of this story perfectly match the layers of mystery and deceit at the heart of The Kingdom, and Rothenberg definitely takes the reader on a theme-park-worthy journey through Ana's story. As Ana starts to peel back the layers of lies and cruelty that she and her sisters have been exposed to, often without their knowledge, it is almost impossible not to feel those betrayals as a reader too. Ana is an interesting protagonist, not least because her very existence raises the question of what it means to be human. This is the story of Ana discovering the world and not only the darkness hidden from her, but the light too. First, she falls in love with Owen, even against her programming, as he helps her to understand the truth around her. Then, as she uncovers these truths, Ana must face the idea that Owen has been hiding things from her too. In the end the question is, did betrayal make Ana a killer or did The Kingdom make her everything that she is, whatever that may be?

An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley for review. All opinions expressed are the reviewer's own.

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