The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg will knock you sideways like Harley Quinn wielding her giant mallet.
The book is set in what’s hinted as a near future version of our world. Most of the animal species are extinct and the world seems a bit of a mess thanks to war, pollution and overall corruption (like I said, the near future). To get everyone’s mind off how horrible everything is, a large corporation created The Kingdom, a magical place where families can come and see lab-grown versions of every species ever known, new species like unicorns and winged horses, go on theme-park rides, and most importantly, hang out with real-life princesses, who just happen to also come from test tubes.
Ana is one of these ‘Fantasists’ – the epitome of human perfection and fantasy, a fairytale princess who is always smiling, always willing to please and altogether just lovely. Except, she’s not happy. None of the fantasists are, even though they’ve been programmed to never disobey the rules of The Kingdom.
The book kicks off with a trial transcript revealing that Ana has been accused of murdering a Kingdom maintenance worker. Told from Ana’s perspective, the reader is pulled headfirst into this world of fantasy come to life. We go back to before the murder occurred, to the moment Ana starts realising something bad is happening inside The Kingdom. She has to go against her own programming to discover the truth and save her sisters. But her new developing personality and ‘feelings’ meet a lot of resistance. Fantasists are not allowed to say no, question or lie.
I’ll be honest, the reactions from the male ‘humans’ when Ana starts speaking up for herself were chilling, and grimly relatable. The fantasists were designed to be objects of fantasy, and the pushback is brutal.
The Kingdom is basically what you’d get if you tossed Disney Princesses, Westworld and Black Mirror into a test tube and shook it around for a bit.
It’s a fast-paced thriller that doesn’t pull any punches, and it’s wonderfully immersive. You feel like you’re walking around Disneyland as Belle from Beauty and the Beast trying to figure out what’s behind the sinister changes happening in the park.
But despite its high entertainment value, this book carries some heavy themes, and the political undertones did not go unnoticed. Imagine The Handmaid’s Tale spliced with The Stepford Wives. It’s dark, but there is a silver lining.
I haven’t read a book so quickly in ages.