ARC Review: The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Ethereal and captivating, Marie Lu’s Kingdom of Back is an amazing historical fantasy. It’s a love letter to those silent companions forgotten to history and gives a voice to Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna. “To be remembered in this world, she created another.”

Ethereal and captivating, Marie Lu's Kingdom of Back is an amazing historical fantasy. It's a love letter to those silent companions forgotten to history and gives a voice to Mozart's sister, Maria Anna. Click To Tweet

About The Kingdom of Back

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons  |  Release Date: March 3, 2020  |  Pages: 326
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fantasy  |  Format: ARC  |  Source: Publisher via Bookish First

Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish–to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age–her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true–but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrically-told story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.

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My Review of The Kingdom of Back

✨ You can read the first chapter in EW’s exclusive excerpt!

“The story you already know is set in a real land, full of real kings and castles and courts.

The story you have never heard is set in a dream of fog and stars, faery princelings and queens of the night. It is about the Kingdom of Back, and the girl who found it.”

Friends, it is time for you to be swept away into The Kingdom of Back! Marie Lu’s first piece of historical fantasy is an enchanting and powerful story of deepest desires, the unfairness of the patriarchy, and an unbreakable sibling bond.

Reading the book honestly is like being wrapped up in a dream. Lu’s writing is lush and ethereal, nearly every sentence is quotable. I adore how descriptive and vivid the language is because I am really able to visualize the world. But sight is not the only sense invoked: there is this scene where Nannerl eats a strange fruit that made my mouth water for its sweetness.

“A faint glow gathered at my feet, a quivering mist of fairy lights, skittish in their movements. The darkness crept away as I continued forward […] I was walking inside a tunnel – the walls dripping with moss and green ivy, baby ferns and tiny rivulets of water.”

The story’s heart is truly with the sibling bond between Woferl and Nannerl. Their relationship is something truly special, and as an older sister I relate a lot to Nannerl. There is this sense of wanting to capture the affection of your parents after a younger sibling becomes the baby of the household that is in direct opposition to the love and feeling of protectiveness for them. Lu’s Nannerl expresses that push and pull of jealousy and guilt masterfully. I wish I was as close to my sister as Nannerl is with Woferl!

“The older we were, the less magnificent we seemed. The approach of my eighteenth birthday, the end of my years as a child prodigy, suddenly seemed very close.”

Both Nannerl and Woferl are child prodigies incredibly skilled at playing the clavier (piano). Their father is incredibly proud of their skill and helps train them, their main interactions with him being that of practice and performance. There’s a pressure on the children to succeed and earn money for the family while they are young, and as a girl this end of childhood looms additional pressures to marry.

“The kingdom will show you every truth that your world doesn’t.”

The Kingdom of Back is a mirror to the real world, and Nannerl’s connection to the Kingdom is tied to her emotions. A main theme is growing into adolescence and the loss of innocence. The book begins when Nannerl is eight years old and we follow her life for ten years – through puberty and all of her anxieties about the role society has cast her in based on her gender. I appreciate the juxtaposition of her growing up (and towards becoming a wife) and how is a main main breadwinner for her family only as a child prodigy and only as a companion to her brother. You get a real sense that she feels her life will be over in adulthood, that her freedom to explore her passion ends when childhood does. Everything about her life is dictated by society and her father.

“No matter how talented I was, no matter how well I performed or how much I charmed – I could never stand where Woferl would.”

The inequity of her situation cries out from the pages. The lyrical and magical experiences are in stark contrast to the harsh reality of the real world. Her father Leopold is so sexist and patriarchal that reading the book at times pissed me off. He puts so much pressure on his children to perform and earn money for the family, pushing for riches and notoriety. I didn’t this this is explained or justified well in the text. I honestly fail to understand how money continues to be such an issue? They go on these tours and can make more in a day than his salary in a year. Where is the money going? Sure touring Europe is expensive, but how are they still struggling to pay rent? His relentless pursuit of riches feels like a poorly justified plot device.

The tone is very similar to Pan’s Labyrinth or Fairy Tales; magic is just a part of the story without any rules or explanations. I love how the magic from the Kingdom creeps into the real world and shines a light on the injustices Nannerl experiences because of her gender. There’s a focus on the mundane in The Kingdom of Back as the magic itself pushes against the patriarchal limitations of the society.

The Kingdom of Back ARC

Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sister Maria Anna. You can tell how personal this story was for Marie Lu to tell. “What legacy could Nannerl have left if she’d been given the kind of attention and access that her brother enjoyed? […] How many countless talents have been silenced by history, whether for their gender, race, religion, or socioeconomic circumstances?” She manages to give hope and inspiration to those disenfranchised in this story, and I’m forever thankful. The Kingdom of Back really centers on Nannerl’s role as a silent companion to history and how the time period disenfranchised so many voices.

Overall, I adored this portal fantasy! The Kingdom of Back captures the wonder of Narnia and the magic of reading it’s similar to Caraval. The writing is magical and captivating; the story is powerful and important. I definitely recommend this book to anyone feeling stifled by society and its expectations. It’s a love letter to those silenced by history and gives one girl her voice.

Content warnings: death, overbearing parent, sexism

ARC provided by the publisher via Bookish First in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect the contents of my review. Quotations are from an uncorrected proof and may be changed upon final publication.

Are you a fan of whimsical fairy tales and historical fantasy? Have you read The Kingdom of Back yet or do you want to?

Are you a Reader Voracious patron? Be sure to check out the exclusive video with my unfiltered reading thoughts for Kingdom of Back over on Patreon!

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!

15 Comments

  1. Evelyn

    April 30, 2020 at 11:45 PM

    Great review! I’m very curious to this one! History in books can really be a hit or miss for me so that’s why I keep doubting about picking this one up!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

    1. Kal

      May 1, 2020 at 2:19 PM

      Thank you so much, Evelyn! This one is heavy on the fantasy elements so it may be a good pick for you!

  2. May @ Forever and Everly

    May 1, 2020 at 10:46 AM

    great review, kal! what you talked about marie writing this for the people whose stories and futures get erased in history really resonated with me, and it’s the reason i’m the most excited to pick this up. i also didn’t know that it was so big on the sibling bond and i’m really excited about that now, esp as an older sister too! i tried to read this last month but couldn’t get into it (historical is always hard for me haha) but i hope i can pick it back up again 💕

    1. Kal

      May 1, 2020 at 2:23 PM

      I wasn’t expecting the book to hit so hard, and I swear that Marie’s author note brought me to tears! The sibling bond is truly precious and I think that you will probably like this — it’s more heavy on the fantasy elements in the same way that The Gilded Wolves is, with historical elements in there, but it reads more modern, if that makes sense? I hope you enjoy it when you pick it up again, I feel like it is a “right time” kind of book because the writing is so lush.

  3. La Femme Livresque | A Reader To Whatever End

    May 1, 2020 at 12:12 PM

    Amazing review!! I didn’t really enjoy Caraval much but I’ve been looking forward to this one ☺️

    1. Kal

      May 1, 2020 at 2:24 PM

      Thank you so much, I hope you enjoy this book when you do pick it up!!!

  4. Charis @ Charis Rae

    May 2, 2020 at 7:48 AM

    I have an audiobook of this and am loving it so far! Lu’s writing is gorgeous, and it’s even more beautiful brought to life with the audiobook 🤩

    1. Kal

      May 17, 2020 at 12:48 PM

      Ooh, I was thinking this would be a GREAT audiobook so I am happy to hear you’re enjoying it!

  5. Lu Reviews Books

    May 2, 2020 at 4:29 PM

    This sounds like something I would like to read. I don’t usually read fantasy, but lately I’ve been venturing more out of my comfort zone. Great review! I’m curious about your unfiltered thoughts 😉💕

    1. Kal

      May 17, 2020 at 12:49 PM

      Thank you so much, Lu! I think this one is fairly accessible to non-fantasy readers because of the historical fiction component, so it may be a good one to to pick up!

  6. Dedra @ A Book Wanderer

    May 5, 2020 at 3:37 PM

    I’d read an excerpt of The Kingdom of Back and loved what I’d read! Great review. Can’t wait to pick it up!

  7. Destiny @ Howling Libraries

    May 5, 2020 at 7:59 PM

    This sounds wonderful! Beautiful review. ♥♥ I’m glad you warned that the sexism was so overwhelming at times, because I know that means I’ll need to make sure I’m in the right mindset for this one, but I definitely want to pick it up soon!

  8. Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

    May 8, 2020 at 11:55 AM

    Hold up, this book is about MOZART??!?????!!!! But specifically his sister??? *pouts* I didn’t even know this. I guess this goes to show I’ve been out of it lately. 😭 But I completely agree that history often forgets about the hidden talents; when we talk about Mozart, we automatically think of the child prodigy dude who died young. Maybe there’s mention of his sister, but the focus is on Wolfgang. 🙁

    Lovely review, Kal! This sounds amazing and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  9. Haley

    May 18, 2020 at 7:15 AM

    I’ve been really worried about reading this, my musicologist heart is intrigued but scared lol but I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it so much and that it really resonated with you! It definitely makes me less hesitant to pick it up! Great review as always!

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