The Kingdom of Back / Marie Lu / Review


Nannerl Mozart has only one wish: to be remembered in the tomes of history forevermore.

But for a young girl in the 1760s, this wish is just beyond her grasp. Though she is a talented musician, she is not allowed to compose her own pieces. Her own musical ability proves less impressive than that of her baby brother, Wolfgang, and the closer she gets to marriageable age, the less time Nannerl has to perform before the public.

All in all, Nannerl is desperate for recognition that she will never get. Though her father and her audience has limited time for her music, someone does hear her plea. The gateway to the mysterious Kingdom of Back opens, and a handsome stranger appears in Nannerl's dreams. This stranger offers to help bring her the recognition she seeks--if only she will help him to get what he desires in return.



Whimsical Descriptions The faerie world Lu creates in the Kingdom of Back is everything of which "gritty realism" deprives fantasy readers. It is ethereal, whimsical, magical. Faerie lights float in a woods of upside down trees. Sea grottos hold magical flowers protected by enchanting sea witches. Dark towers crumble atop hills surrounded by dense hedges of briar and moats filled with guardian beasts. Every description is expertly woven and evocative: fantastical and whimsical as fantasy should be.

Nannerl Mozart Any novel, fantasy or otherwise, that champions the lost women of history is approved as far as I'm concerned. Nannerl Mozart is a real historical figure. She was the older sister of the famous Wolfgang Amadeus who traveled and performed with him early on. She composed as well, according to letters written by her brother that praise her work. Unfortunately, gender constraints of her time grounded her when her brother was allowed to achieve his dreams. Lu takes a suppressed girl from the pages of history and gives her new life in this soaring fantasy book. That in itself is admirable.

Blending Fantasy and Reality This book is not a portal fantasy. No mysterious door opens to lead Nannerl into the Kingdom of Back. She doesn't fall down a rabbit hole or pass through a mirror. Her world and the Kingdom of Back are interconnected, and the borders fluctuate. Sometimes she can see past this world and into the next. Sometimes the worlds overlap. In this work, Lu blends a very-real Austria, France, and England with a surreal faerie realm. I think the blending could have been better. She could have pushed the boundaries in merging history with fantasy more than she did. So there is a critique wrapped up in this as well, but overall, this blending of two worlds is interesting and refreshing--and perfectly in line with the faeries this work summons.


The biggest critique I have for this book is that the voice doesn't work. Nannerl, at the very beginning, is supposed to be a child, but her narrative reads much, much older than the eight or nine years she claims. Perhaps this could be overlooked. Perhaps one could assume that she is reflecting on this early time in her life, and in that vein, of course, her narrative voice is older than the child at the start. Even with this excuse, however, the dialogue for both Nannerl and Wolfgang doesn't ring true. Children, even eighteenth century children, don't speak like these children do. This made it difficult to get into the narrative right at the start. Inappropriate Voice

Though the fantastical and ethereal descriptions of the Kingdom of Back have great merit, there were other times throughout the book where the description feels a little heavy-handed. It is obvious how much research and attention went into the writing of this historical fantasy--obvious in a bad way. Scenes spent in the real (non-faerie) world tended to be swamped in description. I found myself getting lost in historical settings and particular adjective to the point of losing the focus of the narrative. This made the whole thing feel a little too slow-moving. Too Much Description

I feel like I've been writing this critique a lot lately. I promise I don't go into books looking to guess the answer. I like to just go along for the ride, but yet again, this was a book where the "twist" came to me quite early on. As soon as Nannerl started saying, "I feel like I'm missing something here," I knew the missing piece. And that's just disappointing. Predictability



Those who enjoyed the surreal and evocative faerie world in Clare B. Dunkle's The Hollow Kingdom should check out the faerie realm found in this book. Fans of the blending of reality and fantasy found in Victor LaValle's The Changeling should check out this YA piece.


Publisher: Putnam
Date: March 3, 2020
Series: N/A
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  1. Another disappointment from Marie Lu. Very unfortunate.


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