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.”
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
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.
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?
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