The Kingdom – Jess Rothenberg Review

Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom(TM) is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered species–formerly extinct–roam free.

Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful “princesses” engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first time… love.

But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana’s memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and cruelty–and what it truly means to be human.

I received this arc from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review and I confirm that all opinions are my own.

A Sci-Fi thriller both beautiful and sinister, this book is so compelling and gripping I flew through it in a matter of hours. Set in a futuristic Disneylandesque theme park, The Kingdom follows Anna, one of 7 AI Hybrids created to play princesses who exist to make your Happily ever afters come true. Equal parts Westworld and murder mystery, the story flicks between the past and the present, weaving both together to make for an intriguing mystery. I can see this book being a big hitter once released.

Anna is a really intriguing and likeable character. Her naivety is both charming and alarming. We follow her as she discovers she is more than just her programming and that the ‘human emotions’ she was told were beyond her, were actually within her grasp.

This book focuses on some really hard hitting talking points. What is humanity? Can AI’s feel the way humans do, can they fall in love, get enjoyment from social interactions, make friends and make decisions for themselves. A really interesting way this was shown was through the trial. Can Anna really be tried for Murder if she was programmed to do no harm. Is it Anna’s fault or that of the programmers for making her ‘faulty’.

It also focuses heavily on the objectivity of women. There are hints at abuse and rape throughout the book, with hints that the AI’s minds are wiped after such events. Is it morally acceptable because the AI isn’t ‘human’, because they can remove the event from their memory. The author asks some heavy hitting question in regards to our treatment of beings we deem lesser than us, things that we create to give us pleasure – whether that is from a smile and a song or something slightly more sinister.

The third topic the author focuses on is the treatment of animals. The book is set after global warming has done a number on our planet. Many species that we see today have become extinct, and because of this The Kingdom runs an animal hybrid programme, not simply zebras and lions, but Unicorns and horses with wings, animals that we have only dreamed could exist. Is it acceptable to create animals simply for our pleasure, knowing that certain defects can mean hundreds of them dying days after being created. Is it morally acceptable creating a Zebra for the sole purpose of being eaten by a Lion. I loved how the author pulled no punches when focusing on these hard hitting topics, and told through the innocent eyes of Anna it made the scenes even more Ominous.

Because the book flitted between Anna’s trial and her past I found myself reading for hours at a time without really realising it. It manages to keep you gripped because you are unsure of the outcome of the event – did Anna actually murder someone, and if she did, was it due to faulty programming alone. I found myself really sympathising with her as a character and became highly invested in her outcome. This is an easy 5/5 for me, I loved the questions the author asks us as readers even if they weren’t always the easiest to answer, and I know some of the topics covered in this will stay with me for a while.

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