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Review: The Kingdom of Back

The Kingdom of Back

Title: The Kingdom of Back
Author: Marie Lu
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Count: 336
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Date Published: March 3, 2020
You can find it here: Bookshop.org


We all know the story of Mozart – child musical prodigy who grew up to become one of the most prolific and infamous composers of all time. But did you know he had a sister who was just as talented?

This is the story of Nannerl Mozart and her dream of being remembered through her musical compositions, who desires to see the same opportunities afforded her brother, who will go to many lengths to be seen, to be heard … if not in this world, then another. The Kingdom of Back.

One night a mysterious princeling appears in the Mozarts apartment and promises Nannerl he can fulfill her wish of being a beloved composer, remembered for her talents, if she is willing to help him regain his lost throne. Is it a dream? Is it real? As Wolfgang’s health continues to deteriorate, Nannerl must face the choice between her passions and her family, her dream and her reality, before she loses everything she loves.


Let’s Talk When Genre Mashups Don’t Work:

I am all for a complex story that is a hodge-podge, melting pot of genres … when done well. I unfortunately can’t say The Kingdom of Back achieved this.

The fantasy sections just never blended with the historical fiction story surrounding Nannerl’s life. Very one note and underdeveloped – what is the magic here? Who are the characters? – it was just a plethora of fairytale tropes: princess locked in a tower, an evil witch, trolls, and of course the “rule of threes”. But what is worse, it never fit.

Every time the story broke out of Nannerl’s narrative into The Kingdom of Back, it was forced. Literary speed bumps. It completely warred with the story and I found it a chore to fight through, as much as I wanted to love it.

Let’s Talk Forced Narrative:

Many of my all time favourite books centre around bringing to light the buried stories of women in our past. But bringing to light the voices of these women in a historical context is a tricky work. It is so important to bring forth authenticity and not impart your 21st century way of thinking on a character that resides hundreds of years in the past.

Marie Lu made it very clear in her author letter and her extended author note that she was broken hearted by the injustice Nannerl faced – never being able to create her art because she was a woman. Absolutely, there is no argument. But a big problem I had was from page one, this concept was a subtle as a hammer. Her agenda, her words, her agency as a woman of today all fell on her character’s head. I never felt Nannerl was a character, just a Marie Lu opinion piece.

Let’s Talk … I didn’t like Nannerl!:

Okay, I said it.

I didn’t like Nannerl … I wanted to! But she was so bloody … whiny. She absolutely had reason to be, but every single page had her miserable and crestfallen and brow beaten and angsty and … she was pretty tough to take. Especially combined with the whole concept that she may, or may not, be okay with risking her brother’s life to be immortalized through music? I just could never buy that premise.

Overall Thoughts:

I was completely sure I would love this story, one of my most anticipated of the year. I love historical fiction, I love books that bring to light the buried stories of women in our past, I love stories centred on family, mystery, drama and music. But The Kingdom of Back just didn’t work for me – the fantasy elements warred with the historical fiction, never melding together. I could feel the passion Marie Lu had for Nannerl’s plight and injustice but many times it fell like a forced narrative in which I was reading Marie Lu’s opinions, actions, beliefs and not Nannerl herself. I found the fantasy sections very underdeveloped and one note and really believe the story would’ve best been left as historical fiction; the story it feels Marie Lu wanted to write.

TBR Ranking: Low

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