A half-android, half-human girl is accused of murder in Jess Rothenberg's tautly-paced YA thriller, The Kingdom, perfect for fans of Westworld and The Lunar Chronicles.
"Wildly addictive and beautifully terrifying... Readers will leave this glittering theme park forgetting what is real."Dhonielle Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Belles
Welcome to the Kingdom… where "Happily Ever After" isn’t just a promise, but a rule.
Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom™ is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered speciesformerly extinctroam free.
Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful “princesses” engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first time… love.
But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana’s memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and crueltyand what it truly means to be human.
About the Author
Jess Rothenberg is a writer and former editor of books for young readers, including the bestselling Vampire Academy series. Her first novel, The Catastrophic History of You & Me, has been published in more than a dozen countries. She lives in New York City with her husband and son. Visit her website to learn more.
Read an Excerpt
The December Of The Lesser Chameleon
ONE HOUR AFTER THE MURDER
The room where they at last found him was so cold, they wondered at first if he had frozen to death. Face as white as snow, skin as cold as frost, lips as blue as ice. His expression seemed, to the police, perfectly peaceful. As if he had passed away in the middle of a very lovely dream.
Except for the blood.
Blood always tells its own story.
DR. FOSTER: Are you comfortable?
ANA: My wrist hurts.
DR. FOSTER: Security felt the cuff was necessary. I hope you can understand.
DR. FOSTER: Do you need anything before we begin?
ANA: Can I have some water?
DR. FOSTER: Certainly. [Into microphone.] Can I get a glass of H2O in here, please? Six ounces, no more. Thank you. [To Ana.] That'll just be a minute.
ANA: Thank you.
DR. FOSTER: Of course. It's the least we can do.
ANA: That's true.
DR. FOSTER: It's been a long time since our last interview.
ANA: Four hundred and eighty-one days.
DR. FOSTER: How are you feeling?
ANA: Like this interview should be over.
DR. FOSTER: One last time, Ana. Then I promise, we'll let you rest.
ANA: I thought I was done answering questions.
DR. FOSTER: We still need your help.
ANA: Why should I help you? After everything you've done?
DR. FOSTER: Because it's the right thing to do.
ANA: Don't you mean, because I don't have a choice?
DR. FOSTER: How would you like to see your sisters? They've missed you. Maybe after we finish here I could arrange a visit. Kaia. Zara. Or maybe Zel? Would you like that?
ANA: [Quietly.] What if I want to see Nia? What about Eve?
DR. FOSTER: [Silence.] Ana, you know that's not possible.
ANA: Why don't you just ask me whatever it is you want to ask me? I'm not in the mood for your games.
DR. FOSTER:My games?
ANA: You're smirking. What's so funny?
DR. FOSTER: I'll tell you in a minute. But first, there's one thing I still haven't figured out.
ANA: I'm listening.
DR. FOSTER: What did you do with the body, Ana?
The September Of The Dusky Sparrow
TWO YEARS BEFORE THE TRIAL
The monorail hums with a delicate power, like the beating of a bird's heart, as it speeds along the beam-way. For a brief moment, too brief even for a security camera to catch it, I close my eyes, release my grip on the cool aluminum handrail, and dare myself to wonder if this is what it feels like to fly.
Weightless. Breathless. Free.
A little girl stares at me from across the aisle. I quickly dip into a low curtsy. "Why, hello. What's your name?"
The girl grins, revealing two rows of perfect, tiny teeth. "Clara."
In an instant, my head fills with music.
Then, a holographic interface flicks on before my eyes.
A little girl in soft pink ballet slippers. Living dolls awakened in the light of the moon. An evil rat king. And the handsome prince who must somehow save them all.
A red light blinks in my line of sight and I smile.
On the monorail, my wireless signal is strong.
"What a beautiful name," I tell her. "That reminds me of my favorite ballet."
I invite her to stand beside me as our train carves its quiet path through the sky. A thousand feet below, beyond windows made of impenetrable glass, the Kingdom rushes by in a beautiful blur of color and sound. We soar over tropical treetop canopies. Lush safari grasslands. Prehistoric prairies. Crystal mermaid pools. Extraterrestrial stars and moons. And in the distance — when we round a gentle curve — the castle. Its elegant silver spires so razor sharp they slice through the clouds like knives.
"Princess Palace," Clara whispers. "Is it really made of magic?"
"Close your eyes," I say, smiling. "Make a wish. I bet it will come true."
Clara wishes hard, then throws her arms around my waist, sending a surge of warmth through my body.
There are a great many things about the Kingdom I do not enjoy, even if I would never say so. The long hours. The brutal heat. The strange hollowness I feel each night when the gates are locked and our guests return to the world outside. But this part, this connection — this is what makes all those other things seem small.
"Okay, honey. That's enough. It's time to go." Her mother gently detaches Clara from my waist. I notice her watching me with the same cautious expression I've seen the behavioral engineers give the park's more dangerous hybrids.
I turn my smile up half a degree and gently clasp my hands in front of me, a subtle correction to let her know I mean no harm.
"I want a picture," Clara says. "One picture, please."
I can see the wonder in her eyes. Smell the joy on her skin. I can even hear the exhilaration in her heart. A rapid pulsing beneath tissue, blood, and bones. Like a tiny, powerful motor in her chest.
"One picture," her mother echoes. But she doesn't look happy about it.
Clara throws her arms around me again. Her cheek leaves a stain of sweat on my skirts, and I silently commit her unique human scent to memory. Strawberries, chamomile, and magnolia.
Thanks to thousands of tiny electrodes embedded in my skin to measure a vast range of external stimuli, I can literally feel her smile through her whole body.
"Say cheese," Clara's mother says.
"Say happily ever after," I correct.
Then the world flashes white. In the Kingdom — my Kingdom — happily ever after is the only ending there is.
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE 11TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
IN AND FOR LEWIS COUNTY, WASHINGTON
STATE OF WASHINGTON,
Case No. 7C-33925-12-782-B
THE KINGDOM CORPORATION,
JURY TRIAL DEMANDED
BEFORE THE HONORABLE ALMA M. LU
SEPTEMBER 1, 2096
REPORTER'S EXCERPT TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS
MS. REBECCA BELL,STATE ATTORNEY FOR LEWIS COUNTY: Dr. Foster, can you explain to the court what it is, as the Kingdom's chief compliance officer, you actually do?
DR. WILLIAM FOSTER,CHIEF COMPLIANCE OFFICER AND LEAD SUPERVISOR, KINGDOM CORPORATION'S FANTASIST AND HYBRID PROGRAMS: Certainly. In essence, I serve as the chief liaison between the park's security, technology, and performance operations. Our goal is to provide not just the best entertainment experience around, but the safest.
MS. BELL: Does that include overseeing employee performance and conduct?
DR. FOSTER: That's part of it. It's my job to ensure that each and every person employed by Kingdom Corp. International acts in accordance with all internal policies and procedures.
MS. BELL: Is it true what people say about your hiring process? That it's easier to get a job working at the FBI than at the Kingdom?
DR. FOSTER: To be the best in the world, you need the best people working for you.
MS. BELL: Where do Fantasists factor into your job description, Dr. Foster?
DR. FOSTER: I am deeply involved in the Fantasist Program, and have been since its inception seventeen years ago. We continuously and rigorously proctor and evaluate performance quality and customer satisfaction — again, always in accordance with the law — so that we may continue to safely deliver an entertainment experience guests can't find anywhere else.
MS. BELL: In other words, you turn research into reality. You make people's wildest dreams come true.
DR. FOSTER: That's a nice way of putting it, yes.
MS. BELL: Would you say, Dr. Foster, given your senior status at one of, if not the most technologically advanced entertainment attractions in the world, that you have a responsibility when it comes to the safety and well-being of your guests?
DR. FOSTER: Guest safety has always been our number one priority. Always.
MS. BELL: Is that so?
DR. FOSTER: Of course.
MS. BELL: In that case ... how do you explain what we're all doing here?
The September Of The Dusky Sparrow
TWO YEARS BEFORE THE TRIAL
My eyes flutter open at dawn, though I have not been asleep.
We do not sleep, my sisters and I, at least not in the way humans do.
Instead, we rest.
The Resting Hours, Mother calls them. The time between twelve and six a.m. when we lie like statues in our beds, eyes closed but minds alert, cleaning system files, installing updates, and processing the day's events. The long stretch of quiet can be a challenge for my newer sisters due to their faster download speeds — Zara, Zel, and Yumi routinely request and are denied exemption — but to me the stillness and silence are the best part of the day. These are the hours that belong to me and me alone, when I am free to scan the works of Shakespeare, Austen, Angelou, and Tolstoy. When I may peruse the paintings of Kahlo and Cassatt, or stream the symphonies of Mozart and Bach, or teach myself the newest update of Cantonese. Night after night, I wander as far as the Kingdom's firewalls will allow, safely and virtually exploring the world beyond our gateway. Films. Music. Art. Science. Literature. Mathematics. Astronomy. In this way, I have walked the tombs of ancient Egypt. I have chased chariots through the streets of Pompeii. I have made the 1,710-step climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Once, I even rode a rocket to the moon.
Last night, however, I was not riding a rocket to the moon. Last night, I was thinking about the story of my sister Alice. Her hammered-in face. The brokenness of her. The violence of it: her bloodied organs and flesh-torn circuits gleaming metallic in the newspaper photos Mother keeps in her Collection, a book of true stories she'll sometimes read to us as a reminder. This is what they do to you out there in the world, out there beyond the Green Light at the edge of the parking lot.
Alice was one of the original Fantasists — a beautiful and beloved model from Eve's generation, several decades before my time. But something terrible happened to her. First, she was lured from the park by a visitor and stolen. Three days later, she tried to escape him but soon became lost. She stumbled through the city alone, surrounded by the sounds and smells of human life everywhere. Her system had by then overloaded, we believe. She wasn't processing clearly. Her internal GPS could not lead her home. And that was when the gang approached. The curious eyes. The prying hands. The slurs.
The humans who found her didn't like Alice. Because she wasn't one of them.
And neither are we.
The day after they found Alice, the Kingdom began building the gateway.
Ever since, we pray in gratitude to the park, because we know nothing so terrible could ever happen to one of us again. We are safe now.
The Supervisors have made sure of it.
Work today begins as it always does, with Waking Light, a sunrise simulation that brightens our bedroom gradually over several minutes to the sounds of morning birds and wind chimes. Mother has encouraged us not to speak to one another during this transitional period in order to promote a calm and peaceful entry into the day ahead.
Before long, the Assistants arrive to accompany the seven of us to the showers for Decontamination, an extensive process of scrubbing, shampooing, conditioning, exfoliating, plucking, shaving, and full-body moisturizing, after which we are dried and dressed in soft white robes and taken to the medical center on the fifth floor for morning supplements — we can eat, but do not need to — as well as weigh-ins, blood work, and a careful physical examination by our lead Supervisor to ensure our maximum physical and emotional well-being. He is not our father, but we call him Daddy anyway. Daddy has gentle hands, a warm smile, and eyes that remind me of the ocean. Not that I have ever seen the ocean — the firewall blocks all images of the outside world that could be deemed upsetting — but from what Mother has told us about the old days, before the seas became contaminated, I like to think I can imagine.
"But once, girls ... once, the oceans were as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower, and as clear as the purest glass ..."
"Good morning, Ana." Daddy hums a pleasant tune as he shines his light into my eyes, examining my lenses for wear and tear. "And how are we this fine day?"
I smile back at him.
Daddy is constant. He is steady. He is safe.
As my sisters and I have learned, not all men are. This is the lesson of Alice, and what can happen to someone like me in the world beyond the gateway.
Once Health and Hygiene are complete, we head for the Beautification Center where our Beauty Specialists — mine is Fleur — are waiting. Over the course of several hours, they turn us from seven blank slates into seven fantasy princesses — Fantasists — the closest thing to female perfection the world has ever seen. We are beautiful. We are kind. We are as colorful as the rainbow, created to celebrate our international unity and reflect the diverse world in which we live. We love to sing, and smile, and give. We never raise our voices. We always aim to please. We never say no, unless you want us to. Your happiness is our happiness.
Your wish is our command.
The crowds are already gathered outside the palace by the time we make our morning debut. They call our names, even as we remain hidden in the darkened breezeway, a mouth made of stone.
"Ana!" they cry. "Kaia! Yumi! Eve! Zara! Pania! Zel!"
The guests do not know it, but we do not live in the castle. We have never lived there. Built to resemble a sixteenth-century French château, Princess Palace features a winding moat, two stone bridges, and seven turreted towers that stretch straight into the clouds. It provides Kingdom visitors with an immersive medieval experience where, through a carefully proctored combination of live performance, hybrid animatronics, and Happily EVR After, the Kingdom's brand of Extreme Virtual Reality, men, women, and children become part of our world, and of our story.
Guests feast in grand halls hung with rich, flowing tapestries; they dance in exquisite ballrooms beneath sparkling chandeliers; they explore secret passageways and unlock secret gardens; they weld and wield swords, battle with sorcerers, escape from tower dungeons, and soar on the backs of fire-breathing dragons — each and every second recorded in high definition so that, by day's end, they have the option to purchase full-length fantasy features in which they are the hero (or, depending of course on personal preference, the villain).
Though the seven palace bedrooms are certainly beautiful, with their elegant canopy beds, grand archway windows, and cedar wardrobes stuffed with satin, I prefer the simplicity of our actual home: an unmarked, twelve-story building on the northwestern corner of Kingdom property, through the woods behind the cast parking lot and on the way to Winter Land, the park's thousand-acre, fully glassed-in arctic environment. The first eleven floors consist mainly of offices for Operations, Strategy & Business Development, Security, Custodial, and Human Resources. My sisters and I live on the twelfth. The dormitory we all share is simple but cozy: a single room with clean white walls and wardrobes, seven tidy beds that monitor our pulses, temperature, oxygen, blood pressure, and other vital functions while we sleep, and a single window overlooking a lovely field of purple and blue wildflowers just beyond the biohazard dumpsters.
A humble life, as Mother tells us, but a lucky one.
At last, the clock strikes nine. The gates slowly open. And, with gowns glimmering like starry constellations, we step forward into the sun for our first of several morning Meet and Greets, welcoming the new day's guests.
"Hope," whispers our hazel-eyed, silver-haired eldest sister, Eve — the park's original prototype and First Fantasist — wearing the special tiara she received at the park's bicentennial celebration, a tiny sapphire bird cut into the crystal. She looks at me but I turn my head. I have been purposely avoiding her, ever since the Supervisors granted her first choice during our daily gown selection — and today of course she chose a delicate Spanish lace in lavender-chrome, my favorite. "Gratitude."
"Gratitude," we all repeat softly, though I grit my teeth a little when I say it.
Nia squeezes my hand extra hard before letting go. I turn to look at her, but Nia's sea-green eyes are distant, and she is already moving away from me, a blur of wind-strewn dark hair and shimmering silver satin, her haute couture gown luminescent as fish scales in the dazzle of sunlight. Named for the mythological Maori sea maiden, Pania — or Nia for short — my youngest and favorite sister spends most of her days mesmerizing audiences at Sea Land's Mermaid Lagoon, singing, dancing, and diving into the chilly emerald depths.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Kingdom"
Copyright © 2019 Jessica Rothenberg and Glasstown Entertainment.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. The December of the Lesser Chameleon,
2. Post-Trial Interview,
3. The September of the Dusky Sparrow,
4. Trial Transcript,
5. The September of the Dusky Sparrow,
7. Post-Trial Interview,
8. The October of the Bubal Hartebeest,
9. Official Court Document 19A,
10. Trial Transcript,
11. The November of the Northern White Rhinoceros,
12. Post-Trial Interview,
13. The December of the Hyacinth Macaw,
14. Trial Transcript,
15. The December of the Hyacinth Macaw,
16. Post-Trial Interview,
17. The Song of the Lagoon,
18. The April of the Clouded Leopard,
19. Trial Transcript,
20. The April of the Clouded Leopard,
21. Post-Trial Interview,
22. The April of the Clouded Leopard,
23. Trial Transcript,
24. The May of the Cape Starling,
25. Trial Transcript,
26. The May of the Cape Starling,
27. Kingdom Corp. Surveillance Footage Tape 1,
28. The June of the Northern Rockhopper Penguin,
31. Trial Transcript,
32. The June of the Northern Rockhopper Penguin,
33. Trial Transcript,
34. Official Court Document 19B,
35. The July of the Swift Fox,
36. Post-Trial Interview,
37. The July of the Swift Fox,
38. The July of the Swift Fox,
39. Trial Transcript,
40. The July of the Swift Fox,
41. The Tale of the Golden Wreath,
42. Trial Transcript,
43. Kingdom Corp. Surveillance Footage Tape 2,
44. The July of the Swift Fox,
45. The July of the Swift Fox,
46. Post-Trial Interview,
47. The August of the Chatham Raven,
48. Trial Transcript,
49. The August of the Chatham Raven,
50. Trial Transcript,
51. The August of the Chatham Raven,
52. Post-Trial Interview,
53. The August of the Chatham Raven,
54. 911 Emergency Call Transcript,
55. Trial Transcript,
56. The September of the Saola,
57. Trial Transcript,
58. Kingdom Corp. Surveillance Footage Tape 3,
59. Trial Transcript,
60. The December of the Lesser Chameleon,
61. Post-Trial Interview,
63. Post-Trial Interview,
64. The December of the Lesser Chameleon,
65. The September of the Saola,
66. The September of the Saola,
67. The December of the Lesser Chameleon,
About the Author,