THE KINGDOM by Jess Rothenberg
I devoured this book in two days. I probably could have read it in one, but I got tired the first day. The curse of the human body: you have to sleep, which means less time for reading.
The Kingdom was everything I expected but also a lot of twists and turns that left me riveted. This book gave off total dystopian Disney vibes and I loved it. While I will admit that it was the cover that originally drew me in, the story inside is just as interesting, if not beautiful.
However, I will issue a trigger warning for: suicide, sexism, off-page sexual assault, animal cruelty, and animal death.
While some may argue with some of these things because some of the beings experiencing these things aren't entirely human or animal, it still can be disturbing for some readers. I want to make sure readers understand what they're getting into.
The plot is literally dystopian Disney. The Kingdom is a theme park where the main character, Ana, is a Fantasist. A Fantasist is basically a very advanced AI robot that helps bring to the experience of perfect princesses to life. The entire story revolves around how human a Fantasist can be. Are they purely robotic? Doing only what they are designed to do? Or can they develop emotions and thoughts outside of their initial programming?
These questions are answered and I think they are very timely in this day and age - where robotics and AIs are everywhere we look. While we are not as advanced as The Kingdom, I can totally see us getting there. Which makes me very, very sad. It even touches on our planet and how we're destroying different species. For example, it is mentioned that Monarch butterflies are extinct in the book's world. I think it's very telling that that could become a reality.
Ana: As stated above, Ana is a Fantasist. She is designed to be a beautiful princess in the park of The Kingdom. However, she is curious. While her designers insist that this is in her programming, Ana goes above and beyond in my opinion. Which helps to prove that she is evolving. Ana is the main force in this novel - she cares deeply about her sisters - the other Fantasists - and the animals in the park. And about Owen.
Owen: Owen is supposedly a maintenance worker in the park. However, he begins to interact and talk with Ana, which is against the rules. We learn more about him as the story progresses and he gets closer and closer to Ana. He seems to care a lot about the life in the park, even if it is supposedly just robotic. Owen is a very interesting character that I was excited to learn more about.
Most of this book is told through traditional narrative. However, at some points, it goes to transcripts from a court hearing that discusses whether Ana committed murder and whether or not The Kingdom is at fault for that murder or Ana is. I will admit that I found some of the shiftings from traditional to more "electronic" readings were a bit jarring. I even found myself confused at some points in the story because the traditional narrative was set in the past most of the time while the court transcripts were in the present.
But most of the time, I really enjoyed the interesting format changes.
I found this book to be pretty fast-paced. Perhaps that was because I was constantly wanting more, but I honestly think the intrigue started pretty early on. Once you really got into the story, it seemed to go very fast but in the best way possible.
While this book did have its flaws, I really liked it. I thought it was a great, timely look at what the world could become if we keep heading in the direction we are currently.
SAVE THE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES! :(
"Blood always tells its own story."