The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

“Where Happily Ever After is not just a promise, but a rule”

I mean with a tag line like that you can’t not be drawn in by this book! If that doesn’t grab you then the gorgeous cover art will.

Once you get past the wonderful aesthetics; the ‘Disney x Westworld x Big Little Lies’ reality that Jess Rothenberg conjures is sure to captivate you. Rothenberg manages to describe her Kingdom in such minute detail without it seeming contrite: the brazen references to meet and greets, monorails and “the park” are like catnip to a Disney geek like myself; whilst the proclamation from the outset that a crime has occurred appeals to the (slightly) more mature side of this 32 year old bookworm.

The Kingdom is a magical place where dreams come true: or is it? The star attractions: the princesses; are beautiful, perfect, always say the right thing and…are Artificial Intelligence. Their sophisticated technology, wireless signals and encyclopaedic knowledge ensure the princesses are as perfect as possible but it quickly becomes apparent that the princesses are, in fact, prisoners: constantly under surveillance, tracked by GPS implants in their wrists and strapped to their beds at “downtime”.

Ana is our princess and storyteller, opening her world to the reader and introducing us to her “sisters”, “mother” and “father” as well as those who have slightly less favourable views towards the AI, or Fantasists as they are known. There is no doubt that Ana is advanced in comparison to other Fantasists that we meet: she is aware of the park’s wireless blind spots and admits she becomes weary of some songs, unruly children and fathers with wandering eyes. Ironically, Ana is a profoundly human character with whom the reader immediately allies themselves with. Despite clearly being a suspect in the ongoing murder trial, I can’t see any reader convicting Ana. On the contrary, it is a real testament to Jess Rothenberg’s writing that the reader identifies with the Fantasists over and above every human character in her novel. Even Owen, the main human character, is never entirely trustworthy and does not reveal his intentions readily.  

The format of The Kingdom is unlike anything else out there at the moment, in my opinion. The mix of prose, advertisements, interviews, trial transcripts and even apps allow our Fantasist to tell her story but also allows the reader to meet personnel and witness events that Ana would never see. This aspect is crucial to the murder mystery vibe of The Kingdom and Rothenberg leaves the reader guessing right to the very end and begging for a sequel.

Rothenberg’s kingdom is quick to show its murkier, thornier side. Those who question their surroundings are made an example of; nature is manipulated for entertainment and nothing is what it seems. If you haven’t guessed by now, I absolutely adored this book. It had me gripped from beginning to end. If you read one Disney book this year- read this one!

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