Blurb: Welcome to the Kingdom, a dazzling fantasy theme park where ‘happily ever after’ is not just a promise, but a rule . . .
It’s a fairytale which ends in murder as the one of the ‘Fantasists’ goes renegade… Ana, a half-human, half-android princess, is tasked with entertaining visitors and making wishes come true but now she’s on trial, after finding herself experiencing emotions and romantic feelings against all her programming.
Told through court testimony, interrogation records and fragmented flashbacks, The Kingdom has the futuristic appeal of Westworld and the twists and turns of a true-crime thriller.
I was utterly mesmerised by this story.
Jess Rothenberg juxtaposes a certain well-known Magical Kingdom aesthetic with the kind of god-playing found in Jurassic Park or Frankenstein to explore the nature of what makes us human, with devastatingly compelling effect.
We follow the story of Ana, a human-android hybrid created as one of seven ‘Princesses’ to entertain guests at The Kingdom theme park. Some perform with dolphins in the icy waters of the marine section; some dance in ballgowns at the castle balls; Ana seeks out nature in the form of the hybrid animals in the jungle, arctic or woodland zones. Of course, whatever their special interest, all of the princesses must be kind and smile, and make the guests magical wishes come true. And if the guest’s wishes are not so magical – not sweet and innocent – then there’s nothing to worry about: ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ are there to soothe upsets, wipe memories and make a ‘broken’ princess disappear… sometimes forever after.
The story is told through a mixture of Ana’s memories, court documents and a psychologist/scientist transcript of an interview with Ana. The story starts with an unspecified murder (hence the court and interview), but other than Ana being somehow involved, events are unclear. Gradually the author takes us back and forth, revealing the rot beneath the shining streets, and the distress beneath the lipstick smiles, until it becomes a lot clearer exactly who is guilty and what the real crime is.
I adored all of the princesses wholeheartedly, not just Ana. It is clear both what they were designed to be, and how they have surpassed the limits of their programming (each in their own ways) to show more humanity than the ‘real people’ surrounding them. The parallels with slavery, the treatment of minorities and those who are different, and the inhumane treatment of performing/captive animals throughout human history are all clear and distressing.
Yet the author doesn’t forget that this is also entertainment and provides the reader with a twisting mystery plot that kept me reading, spellbound, to the bittersweet end, and had me reliving the story long after the ever after. Highly recommended.
ONE HOUR AFTER THE MURDER
The room where they at last found him was so cold they wondered, at first, if he had frozen to death. Face as white as snow, skin as cold as frost, lips as blue as ice. His expression seemed, to the police, perfectly peaceful. As if he had passed away in the middle of a very lovely dream.
Except for the blood.
Blood always tells its own story.
– Jess Rothenberg, The Kingdom
The Kingdom is available on Amazon right now!