The Kingdom is the ultimate fantasy theme park, with its thrilling rides and coasters, set among safari grasslands, mermaid pools, and tropical forests, a monorail, and the magical Princess Palace. Long-extinct animal species have been bioengineered and now roam free, along with hybrid animals like horseflies as well as virtual dragons.
And what’s this Kingdom without princesses? Ana is one of seven Fantasists - half-human, half-android princesses, who are engineered to make park visitors' fantasies come true. Her programming dictates that her behavior is predictable, and she is not complicated with the vast array of human emotions. So when Ana does start experiencing emotions, questioning what she's been told to think and say, her whole world inside this surreal futuristic amusement park changes. It also leads to the most controversial trial of the century and to a surprise romance.
Author Jess Rothenberg isn't new to the YA scene, having been both the editor of the popular 'Vampire Academy' series, and writer of 'The Catastrophic History of You & Me.' But this is a genre-bending departure from vampires and paranormal romance for Rothenberg, bringing us a mash-up between sci-fi and fantasy, Westworld crossed with Disney World. The Kingdom is set in Lewis County, WA, 2096, a future that comes across as incredibly eerie, the kind of ‘too good to be true’ that is undeniably unsettling from the very beginning.
Ana, being half-human, has deep questions about the role she is supposed to play in the theme park, as it becomes clear that it’s far from ‘normal’; most importantly, the question of whether she actually committed the highest crime of all - murder - pushes the story through twists and turns all the way through. The confusion Ana feels over her romantic feelings and friendships are also fantastically exaggerated examples of how the teenage years can be a minefield to deal with anyway, and the way she questions the treatment of animals hit me at my core.
This book is the perfect combination of fantasy and sci-fi, with the twist of mystery, romance and good dose of a fairytale mixed in, and it brings up so many profound questions about humanity and how we treat others. It felt like nothing else I had read lately and so I loved this deeply original book.
*Thank you to Christian Trimmer for introducing me to this delight, and Henry Holt Books for Young Readers for treating me to an early copy.