A woman's face splits open and she's got mechanical parts underneath.

About the Book

Title: The Kingdom
Published: 2019
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talk: Trial and Tribulations
Bonus Factors: Alterna-Disneyland, Hybrids
Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grownups
Relationship Status: Pushed

Trigger Warning: There are scenes of suggested sexual abuse and self-harm in The Kingdom that some readers might find triggering.

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

GIF from Montell Jordan's music video "This Is How We Do It"

I LOVE this cover. Even though it’s little Big Face, it’s unique and really speaks to the science fiction themes of the book, while giving hints about what the title’s referring to. (Is that castle in the bottom left corner a little familiar?)

The Deal:

The Kingdom is a place where fantasies come alive and wishes are granted. Ana, one of seven Fantasists, serves the people who visit the Kingdom and makes sure that their visit to the park is truly magical. Ana was made for the job—literally. She’s a hybrid, created in a lab and programmed to be the perfect princess the Kingdom’s visitors expect. But Ana’s changing, growing outside of her set parameters. Ana didn’t used to be able to commit murder, but could she have evolved past those limitations?

BFF Charm: Yay

Yay BFF Charm

Ana’s not exactly human, and she might have killed someone. The former isn’t a con—I’m very open to the many forms that “people” can take—and I’m a strong believer in the “innocent until proven guilty” adage when it comes to the latter. (Especially since she says she didn’t do it, and the evidence is circumstantial.) She’s intriguing because she’s different, and she’s searching fo her identity. I appreciate that very much, because I, too, am still trying to figure myself out. I think we could be good sounding boards for each other.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Ana’s changing personality doesn’t just come in the form of her questioning her place and her programming—it also comes in the form of an attraction to Owen, a Kingdom maintenance worker … whose murder Ana’s accused of committing. If the two had Facebook and updated their relationship status, it would definitely be “It’s Complicated.”

Talky Talk: Trial and Tribulations

The Kingdom is mostly told from Ana’s POV, with interviews, security footage, and trial proceedings peppered throughout. The juxtaposition of past and present makes for a unique read, particularly since you know from the get-go that Ana’s on trial for Owen’s murder, and the “present”—Ana’s POV—is actually mostly the past. (Clear as mud, right?) The mystery unravels slowly but enticingly, and it’s not clear until the very end just what went down.

Rothenberg has created a somewhat unreliable narrator in Ana, but the growth she experiences throughout the novel is believable and compelling. I found myself rooting for her, even while knowing that she could very well be a murderer. She’s naive and innocent, but not stupid, and it’s easy to commiserate with someone who’s in the midst of a life-changing turn of events, especially when she’s been kept in the dark for so long.

Bonus Factor: Alterna-Disneyland

Minnie and Mickey walking through Cinderella's castle's gate

The Kingdom doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of this universe’s most magical place on Earth. On the outside, the park is very Disneyland-like, with princesses and castles and the idea of it being an escape from normalcy and everyday life. Underneath, however, there’s a seedy underbelly that’s much more than tunnels that get cast members to various parts of the park quickly and without being seen. (Think Westworld, but more YA than HBO.) I’m a Disney fan, but I really enjoyed this twisted version, particularly as it played into Ana’s self-discovery.

Bonus Factor: Hybrids

An orange with a green apple inside the peel.

Ana and the other six Fantasists aren’t the only engineered creations that roam The Kingdom. The park’s scientists have brought back formerly extinct species to surprise and delight the visitors and have created wholly new species, like horses with butterfly wings. Were I to visit The Kingdom, the animal exhibits would definitely be my favorite.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grownups

Boxtrolls characters

Most of the people in Ana’s life treat her as a lesser creature, even going so far as to call her a monster. Many of them, specifically one of the main animal trainers, doesn’t treat his creatures any better. I felt stabby more than once while reading The Kingdom thanks to these terrible, but sadly believable, examples of humanity.

Relationship Status: Pushed

Our date started out magical and quickly veered into the sinister, Book, but your thoughtful examination of what it means to be human—and the various ways people can escape—made me think. And I always appreciate a push in a different sort of direction.

Literary Matchmaking

Defy the Stars (Constellation #1)

Claudia Gray’s Constellation series also features an android who grows, changes, and searches for the meaning of his own life.

Genuine Fraud

The main character of E. Lockhart’s Genuine Fraud is also an unreliable narrator, and there’s a mystery in the book that isn’t solved until the very end.

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)

And if you like the way Rothenberg interspersed security footage and trial proceedings, you’ll really enjoy Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Henry Holt & Company, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Kingdom is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.