Friday, January 28, 2022

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg


Whoa. This was so much darker than I was expecting. There are lots of reviews that talk about how this is similar to Westworld but in a more Disneyland-like setting, and all of those reviews are basically totally on point. The Kingdom is a place for happily-ever-afters, filled with "hybrid" creatures of flesh and circuitry, ranging from the ordinary, like bears or birds, to the extraordinary, like horses with butterfly wings, rideable dragons, and geese trained to serve tea.

The show-stoppers are the fairytale princesses though. There are seven of them, and Ana, our narrator, is one of these. THE KINGDOM is told in dual timeline, so we know that, at some point, Ana committed an act of violence that she, as a cyborg, is now standing trial for. Her programming is supposed to keep her from harming humans, but it seems like a lot of the "living" creatures in the park have been acting strangely as of late, and the park has been doing their best to suppress this knowledge and act as if nothing is happening.

Yes, this is pretty similar to Westworld, although it lacks the on-screen sex and violence. There are plenty of implied horrors, though. People, including staff, but also guests, treat the princesses like pleasure devices, and there is something chilling about the way that these humanoid beings are basically objectified and dehumanized. It also tackles a lot of the ethnical questions of things like Westworld and Jurassic Park. Just because you can do something-- should you do it? What are the limits of AI? When does something cease being a means of profit and start to raise more broad concerns, such as environmental impact and human safety?

Ana is a compelling narrator and I really liked her interactions with the other princesses, and with Owen Chen, a sympathetic janitor. I also liked the mixed media style of telling. Two other books I really enjoyed, WATCH THE GIRLS and NIGHT FILM, do this as well, and I think it really works when it's done well. I think the story unfolds at a decent pace and despite what other reviewers seemed to think, I actually really enjoyed the ending. Usually, dystopian novels end up being total downers, so it was actually nice to read something that ended on a note of hope. Serious trigger warnings for animal abuse, animal cruelty, sexual harassment, and strongly implied sexual assault.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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