I very rarely buy physical copies of books. New, at least- one reason for my spurges of bad YA recently has been because those are the easiest books to find thrift. Good books, especially new good books, rarely show up in charity shops. However, I went ahead and paid full price for The Kingdom without reading any reviews, and I’m glad I did.
I knew I would like this, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t pleasantly surprised how much I did. My favorite movie is Ex Machina, and one of my favorite books is Only Ever Yours, and this book is a perfect blend of both, but also set in a theme park. And books set in theme parks are the best books.
Plainly, I would recommend this book to anyone (and already have). It’s a good length suspense about the meaning of being alive, AI, morality, and advanced technologies, and the only major downside to me was the ending, which seems to set up more for a possible sequel rather than embrace a clean, tidy ending.
In the future (the year is about 2052) there’s a giant, super advanced theme park called The Kingdom. This place has advanced VR, giant artificial locations, safari parks and ski slopes- as well as extremely state of the art robotics. The Kingdom is the pioneer of cloning formally extinct animals such as a woolly mammoth or polar bear, as well as crazy hybrid like butterfly-winged horses.
They also have done this with humans. Specifically, the Fantasists, seven perfect princesses who are majority advanced AI, but built with human skin, hair, and organs. They are hybrids, really, with mechanical blood and semi mechanical blood.
The Fantasists exist to be living, real ‘costume characters’ you see in parks. Unlike the similar-concept Westworld, the Fantasists know what they are, and their job. They use their advanced AI to learn and read human expressions in order to bring joy to children and assist in making people’s visit to The Kingdom has lovely as possible. They have a degree of free will (able to wander during ‘break periods’) and their own personalities, but these are also programmed things.
The plot of the book itself is told with two concurrent time periods: the present, where one Fantasist Ana is on trial for murdering a park employee, and a year and a half earlier, where we see Ana meet the man she later kills. The question is not ‘did she do it?’ or ‘how?’, it’s ‘why?’.
The approach of this is again heavy on the idea that the Fantasists are programmed. They are learning machines, but they still follow perimeters, and the present-day court tries to interview and argue why Ana would have glitched and done something malicious- if she’s even capable as a machine of pre-meditating murder- and the past, where we see from Ana’s point of view her life as she becomes aware of a darker side of The Kingdom.
I actually struggle a lot when it comes to writing reviews of books I really enjoyed, especially when they are very new and I want to preserve some twists and spoilers. This book isn’t very heavy on plot twists, but there’s still some reveals, and turns, which keep things interesting. Most of the book is the linear story of Ana as she meets Owen (who she later kills), as well as looking into the disappearance and shut down of one of the other Fantasists. This book has some darker themes, but is not particularly explicit (perhaps for the best).
Like I said, I feel the one big downside for me is the ending. I couldn’t put this book down while reading it, even if I was at my job and totally meant to be assisting customers… but the very very end was a slight let down. I don’t mind how it wraps things up, and appreciate the fact it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but I usually find a dark dystopia like this one is best with a ‘final’ ending. Better standalone, that is. While a sequel would be a great way to explore the world and implications, sometimes those are best left to imagination. Though it’s nice to see a non-bleak conclusion, also, I felt like things worked out a little too smoothly for all the difficulties going on. I don’t necessarily want to be whacked over the head with depression (Only Ever Yours…), but in this genre it’s usually best to put the message and theme above a tidy ending.
Still, it’s not a bad ending or anything, and if there is a sequel I’ll be sure to pick it up the moment it hit shelves.