Pinterest is a lot of fun and looking up mood boards by your favourite authors and seeing what kind of stories they have lined up in their WIPs is always fun! Well, Marie Lu has lots of interesting boards including one that was entitles The Kingdom of Back. I remember going through it and quickly falling in love with the whimsical pictures she had saved.
The moment I heard the announcement for this book, I was so ready to drop all my dollars to have it in hand.
THE MOMENT PENGUIN TEEN CANADA GOT IN ARCS, I WAS SO HAPPY TO FIND OUT I GOT ONE FOR MYSELF!
Then I read it. Loved it. SOBBED. And here I am trying to write an elegant and coherent review about how much I adored this. I cannot say if my attempt will be successful, but here we go.
The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
Pub Date: March 3rd, 2020
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu comes a historical YA fantasy about a musical prodigy and the dangerous lengths she’ll go to make history remember her—perfect for fans of Susanna Clarke and The Hazel Wood.
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.
*Thank you Penguin Teen CA for the ARC*
I didn’t know what to expect, if I am being honest. This was historical fantasy, something I have never read from by Lu, but my oh my did she deliver with this book. I was touched body and soul by this story.
These characters were phenomenal. I’ll be honest (again), I had no idea that Mozart had a sister who was also a musical genius, but if book-Nannerl was anything like historical-Nannerl I would have loved to meet her. Nannerl was a wonderfully crafted character in every way possible. She had a passionate spirit and a wicked imagination that kept her company during her most lonely times. She had a fierce love for her family, especially her brother and she had ambition even when she was told to hold it in. But she was not all heart of gold and devotion, she was petty and jealous and resentful of the conventions that held her back. And I loved her for it. I would find it highly unrealistic if she didn’t feel any of those emotions when she never got any credit or was given less than she deserved. But God I loved her. I loved that she was so real and raw.
Woferl…who I called Will Ferrel for like half of the book. He was such a sweet heart. And wow a genius! And his devotion to Nannerl, I am sobbing!!! He was just a kid for most of the book, but he makes mistakes too and I couldn’t help but feel mad at him and bad for him!
The dad. God I hated him. Nannerl is a better person than I am, trust me.
Hyacinth. Well, if a cute magical boy showed up out of the blue and took me to an imaginary world…I would not have acted much different! He was quite something!
The music. Let me tell you, I know nothing about music and composition and I know nothing about Mozart really. But I did not for one second feel lost in this story when Lu explored the musical adventure of these siblings. The descriptions of music were lovely and it is constantly interwoven beautifully in the narrative! I mean if you have musical knowledge I’m sure you will find even more nuance then I did, but even if you are a music noob like me, you’ll find something impeccably beautiful about its role in the book.
This atmosphere was just ethereal. The real-world itself was pretty enchanting. We get to follow the siblings as they tour Europe and play for different aristocrats. Lu crafted three stupendous settings for readers. There was the warm–sometimes harsh–home of the music room of the family home, the glamorous life of the courts the children got peaks of on their tours and then there was the Kingdom of Back! I loved how Lu transported us to the imaginary world, with subtle changes to the atmosphere as it got more whimsical and magical with each word on the page. The creatures and beings of the kingdom were so rich and mysterious for *reasons* and ugh, I loved everything about it! If I could step into that kingdom, 10/10 I would go!
The FAMILY DYNAMICS. I am sobbing. This family was something else. It was loving at the same time it was suffocating. Nannerl and Woferl’s father had high expectations for his children, he wanted them to achieve everything they could with the talents that they had. And he pushed them hard to get them out there. But he wasn’t always that amazing at being a dad. He actually sucked a lot. You can’t help but be angry every time he praised Woferl and critiqued Nannerl. Her constant desire for his validation and praise—I AM CRYING! All she wanted was to make him proud and be on the receiving end of his unconditional love. AND I AM SOBBING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The things this family goes through honestly pulls so much at the heartstrings you cannot help but sob.
The sibling relationship was my absolute favourite part of this book. I loved that it was a complex dynamic between Nannel and Woferl. There was the unconditional love that just existed between them, then there was the utter devotion to each other and finally the resentment, the jealousy, and the pettiness that exists too! Trust me, I know, I have two older sisters and we all sometimes hate each other as much as we love each other!
I am not one to say that this is historically accurate because I just don’t know, but Lu does hit Nannerl’s historic troubles on the nose. She is a girl of the late eighteenth century who has an amazing talent, but knows she will never amount to much because she is a girl. And I felt rage. A lot of rage. Rage at the unfairness that was and is our world. That her greatest wish to be remembered didn’t exactly come true. She is always in the shadow of her brother as much as she tries to fight it. AND I CRIED. I CRIED. I CRIED. I CRIED AT THE UNFAIRNESS OF IT ALL. Then the Author’s note and acknowledgements did me in because they spit out so much truth and !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I sobbed!
The ending. I–I was—Marie Lu did that with her words. And I fucking sobbed. I’m writing this now and choking up a little because she did that. And *that* is probably one of my favourite kinds of way to end a book because it is a full circle. None of what I just wrote makes any sense because I am being super vague. Just know that it is amazing and pulls hard at the heartstrings!
There is not one thing I have to critique about it. Marie Lu completely knocked it out of the park. This is a fabulous and incredible love letter to a lost but never forgotten musical genius. I already want to reread it!
Overall, This book is amazing. The story enchants you from page one and you cannot help but love following these two siblings as they grow up and are thrust into the lime light and create their own magic with music. It is a compelling read and makes an honest and heartfelt statement about the historical limitations put on people like Nannerl who didn’t get to have their glory and names woven directly into the fabric of our cultural history. It’s a story about family and forgiveness and self-love. It’s an emotional roller coaster with a sweet yet longing ending.
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars
Recommend: YES. YES. YES.
Let me know what you think! Are you looking forward to reading this? What is your favourite Marie Lu book? Have you ever cried to books?