AG Reads: Review of ‘The Kingdom’ by Jess Rothenburg

Hey guys! So for the first time ever on this blog, I’m doing a book review! I thought it would be so much fun to review ‘The Kingdom’ by Jess Rothenburg since I enjoyed reading it so much and I thought the plot and themes throughout it were so fascinating. The blurb on the back reads as follows: ‘Let’s look at what we know. Did Ana kill Owen Chen? Yes. She did. The point of this case, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why? Welcome to the Kingdom, a dazzling fantasy theme park where ‘happily ever after’ is not just a promise but a rule … Seven beautiful Fantasists – half-human, half-android princesses – are programmed to make wishes come true, no matter what. But when Fantasist Ana meets theme park worker Owen, her fairytale ends in blood. Now, she’s on trial for experiencing human emotions beyond her programming and must come face to face with what she is and what she’s done. But the truth is dangerous and no one wants the Kingdom to fall …’ I can safely say that this one of my favourite books because it’s so unique and individual in it’s plot and the moral it portrays. It’s gripping and forces you to consider things from a different perspective. So in today’s post, I’m going to explore the central themes and plot of the book ‘The Kingdom’.

WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!

The book opens with a short chapter about the death of someone who’s very important to the narrative of the book however, it’s not until the end that you can connect the dots and discover who this is. The story is set in the future in 2095 and it revolves around Ana, one of seven Fantasists who are the main attraction at The Kingdom theme park. Along with her sisters Eve, Nia, Zel, Zara, Kaia and Yumi, Ana is half android, half human and lives in the amusement park, relying on the Supervisors and her creator Dr Foster, or ‘Daddy’ as she calls him, to keep her alive and well. She has been conditioned to believe that happily ever after is the only ending there is and that Dr Foster and the supervisors love her and that’s why she’s alive and kept safe by them. However, her natural curiosity and the meeting of her and the theme park worker Owen Chen is part of what causes her to evolve over the time period of the book. Suddenly, she can clearly see the Kingdom for what it truly is: imperfect and flawed. She is no longer naive to the lie of a happy ending and as she develops feelings for Owen that are supposed to be beyond her programming, she becomes much more human and willing to rebel against the rules and expectations that are placed upon her.

A big plotline is the fact that the hybrid animals that live in the Kingdom were malfunctioning and some had to be shut down. The hybrid animals were extinct animals that had been brought back to life and now were controlled by the theme park. There were many cases throughout the story when hybrid animals malfunctioned in killing other animals or behaving in a way that was not ordinary or expected. This was seen when a tiger hybrid killed her cubs or when a polar bear plunged into a stadium audience. By them malfunctioning, they were immediately shut down as the theme park could no longer control them and that was the scary part for them. But, as Owen points out at some point in the story, they were just evolving to adapt better to their environment which was an inevitable thing to occur. But it also seemed to be spreading to the Fantasists as two of them performed unforgivable acts to show how dangerous they were and that they were evolving beyond the point where they could still be controlled. Suddenly, they could both see the lies that they’d been fed by the Supervisors and Dr Foster and one of them started to show quite serious symptoms that could be linked to mental illness. They sacrificed themselves as they didn’t want to keep on living as mere pawns in the bigger game that the theme park was playing where they were planning to put Fantasists in every home in America and eventually the whole world. The two of them could see the damage that would be done in the future when each Fantasist would evolve and develop genuine human emotions which were beyond what the families or programmers had bargained for. Their individual stunts were a demonstration of the danger that would ensue if the operation went ahead and thankfully, their contributions, along with Ana murdering Owen, resulted in the halting of the operation. However, it’s important to note that Ana unknowingly helped with this and didn’t figure out this part until the end of the story.

The story flicks between Ana’s trial for murdering Owen, the post trial interview Dr Foster conducted with her and the story that led up to the murder. It’s hard to believe in the beginning that this Fantasist princess who’s so routine orientated and willing to follow and see the good in the rules the Supervisors set down would murder someone. She seems too machine like and morally driven to ever even consider it. But as we see her feelings for Owen deepening into something that greatly resembles love, it’s even more hard to believe. He’s set her free from the control that the Supervisers and Dr Foster have over her by showing her what real love is. For much of the novel, I was confused about their relationship as it seemed so one sided on Ana’s part with her always seeking to spend time with him and her slight obsession with him. But I think Owen was trying to push her away and ignore the feelings he was developing for her as he was too scared to face up to what they meant. He acts quite hot and cold with her, sometimes talking to her openly and sharing personal things with her and sometimes having little time for her or the things she wanted to discuss with him. A big revelation in the storyline is that Owen is acting as a Proctor to observe the effect that evolution was having on the Fantasists by studying Ana. In the beginning, I think he was truly acting just as part of his duty and was building up trust and friendship with her as part of his job. But I think that all changed towards the end of the story as he offered emotional support to her as she feared being shut down due to her gradually evolving and developing human emotions and characteristics that were beyond her programming. He got to know her and loved who she was. He calls her fascinating, says he never met anyone else like her and states that she’s an angel. He truly began to look forward to their time together and like any flawed human, he didn’t always behave in the right or best way when handling the situation. I think they understand each other perfectly but sometimes there can be some miscommunication and misunderstanding because they are from such different worlds. But she relies quite a lot on him as with time, she discovers that he’s the only person she can trust fully and he gives up so much just because he loves her. After all this, her murdering him seems so outrageous and out of character until her reaction when she finds out he’s only there to observe her and report to the supervisors. She is in a blind rage about it that he broke her trust and enticed her in when it seems like he didn’t love her at all. Jess Rothenburg cleverly sets this situation up for the finale of the book so that narrative that follows supports it perfectly.

I think the relationships Ana held with other people in the book were quite interesting. There were two people she called ‘Mother’ and ‘Daddy’ (Dr Foster) but there aren’t many touching or loving interactions between them. Ana, in the beginning, has been programmed to believe that everything they do is for her good because they love her but as the story rolls on, she begins to see just how much unnatural control they hold over her life. I don’t think it’s ever mentioned who her ‘mother’ is but both her and Dr Foster monitor Ana and all the girls very closely to check they are obeying and staying in line. Ana calls the other Fantasists her ‘sisters’ and she seems to hold good relationships with them. In particular, she spends lots of time with Kaia and seems to want to look after and protect her. Her and Eve don’t get along at first but once Eve confides in her about the seemingly unnatural emotions she feels, they grow closer. Ana feels the need to protect Eve from hurting herself as she begins to go off the rails and begins to show signs of depression. But her and Nia have the best relationship of all as they confide in each other, reassure each other, look out for each other, spend the most time together and even tell each other of the love they have for each other. Nia relies on Ana for emotional support as she tries to find her purpose in life and I think as we previously established Ana needs love from other people and Nia is one of the people who she treasures most in life. The saddest part is that Nia does something quite unforgivable and as a result, she is shut down permanently. It’s clear that Ana misses her a lot and I think this is another one of the factors that causes her to rebel against her preset role as a Fantasist. She’s clearly angry at the supervisors for stealing Nia from her.

One of the key elements of the story is things not truly being as they appear. The Kingdom is in theory a place where dreams come true and happily ever after is promised but dig a little deeper and it has a myriad of dark secrets. Although it’s never actually revealed, it’s hinted at that people generally have two reactions to Fantasists. They either hate them and view them as unnatural and different or they lust after them and desire them. Although it never happens to Ana, Kaia, Eve and potentially some of the others have had sexual encounters with Kingdom staff and Investors that probably weren’t consensual and in some cases, their memories have been wiped so they have no recollection of it. I think people dehumanise them and view them as objects which they can use and throw away even though the Fantasists are quite capable of feeling human emotions and are so much more than just machines. Some people in the book are also quite cruel to them and others act cautiously as if they don’t trust them or they fear that they’ll turn on humans and fight against them. I don’t think Fantasists deserve the prejudice they are met with and certainly in Ana’s case, I think that they just want to be loved like any human does. Another scary fact is that Fantasists are not safe outside of the park in the outside world. A first generation Fantasist, Alice, is a prime example of this. She was lured from the park by a visitor and stolen but after she’d escaped, she couldn’t find her way back to the Kingdom. Then the gangs approached her and she was found in a broken state, beyond repair. After this, the Kingdom built a gateway to ensure the safety of the Fantasists and told the Fantasists scary tales of the outside world so they’d never want to leave. The fact running throughout the whole book was that they were different from humans and in most cases that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Overall, I thought the book was amazing. It looked at some really important topics like prejudice and it considered a possible future for our world if technology keeps advancing. The characters in it were complex and interesting and there were lots of twists and turns with some really shocking reveals. I would definitely recommend that you read it!

Thank you for reading this post! Have you read this book before? Let me know in the comments! There’ll be another post out soon but until then bye for now!

Amelia Grace a.k.a Amelia in Hull

3 comments

  1. This sounds like such an interesting book and raises some interesting points about the future and what the future could be like with the evolution of robotics. It sounds like you really thought about the book after you finished reading it and delved into what the author could be saying between the lines about the world that we live in. You should definitely do more book reviews as I genuinely enjoyed reading this. xx

    Liked by 1 person

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