Review: THE KINGDOM by Jess Rothenberg

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Page Count: 352
Release Date: May 28th, 2019
Series: Standalone
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked it

Note: I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.

Kingdom-FinalCoverIn the not-so-distant future, there exists a theme park called the Kingdom.  It is a place of cutting edge technology, of virtual reality experiences and live shows.  But the biggest attraction of all are the seven princesses, each a carefully crafted, genetically engineered creation, melding human cloning and technology to create an organic android.  They have all the outward trappings of real human skin and appearance, but inside is nothing but wires and programming.  Ana is one of these princesses.  She knows that there are rules that must be followed for her own safety.  She must never leave the Kingdom, must be obedient, must always do her best to make the guests happy.  But when one of her “sisters” begins behaving oddly and nearly kills a human, Ana begins to investigate things that she had willingly turned a blind eye to before – and what Ana discovers will lead her to murder.

THE KINGDOM is a fully entertaining fast read that I devoured in the space of two days. I loved the whole concept of a Disneyland-esque theme park turned to eleven, one where even the princesses have been carefully crafted.  The areas of the park, the routines of the princesses, the ways in which they interact with the guests were all thought out and created a real fantastical setting for this AI thriller.  I’m also a fan of the trope of “AI realizes it has human feelings,” so there was plenty in this book that was pressing all the right buttons for my enjoyment.  There were a few other subtle touches I enjoyed, like one of the princesses who only responds in canned phrases – phrases that start to take on a more sinister bent once some details come to life.

Perhaps the greatest sin of THE KINGDOM, then, is that at the end of the day, it is utterly consumable, and utterly disposable.  I thoroughly enjoyed my read and am very glad I picked it up.  While I will probably remember the concept with fondness, I’m not sure that the plot and characters made a lasting impression.   It’s a tech thriller that does try to engage with the future of AI and ethical ramifications, albeit somewhat shallowly.  And as the story is told from Ana’s first person POV, we know a lot about her, but fairly little about the other princesses, or her eventual love interest. It’s not to say these things are badly written so much as they aren’t there.

THE KINGDOM is a summer popcorn flick of a book, for good and for ill.  It’s imaginative and an easy read and kept me turning the pages. If you’re looking for something deep and profound about AI technology, I’d suggest you go elsewhere.  But if you’re looking for a read that’s just a pure, unchallenging delight, you can’t go wrong with THE KINGDOM!

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