Title: Kingdom of the Wicked
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Elements of Horror
Gisselle's Rating: 5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for Kingdom of the Wicked.
If you are a fan of witches, elements of fantasy and horror, magic, and forbidden romance, this book is most certainly for you.
Kerri Maniscalco's novel Kingdom of the Wicked tells the story of Emilia di Carlo, a woman living in Italy with her family. Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe -- witches that live among humans, but must hide their magical abilities in order to avoid prosecution and death. After Vittoria is missing from a family dinner one night, Emilia discovers her twin has been murdered, her corpse desecrated and her heart missing. Twisted by grief, Emilia vows to find her twin's murderer. She will stop at nothing in her quest for answers, even if it means turning to dark magic, a forbidden practice that she was warned all her life to stay away from, and teaming up with Wrath, a Prince of Hell and a creature of the Wicked.
Despite the fact that Vittoria's murder serves as the catalyst of Emilia's journey, this is not an event that happens right away in the book. Having prior knowledge that Vittoria was going to be killed, I was anticipating this plot-point from the very first page; however, Maniscalco delivers just enough red-herrings of scenes that could have been Vittoria's demise that I was still caught by surprise when Emilia inevitably discovers her sister's body. I thought it was a clever opportunity for Maniscalco to hold back on Vittoria's death; the postponing of her murder allowed for me to get to know Vittoria as a person and to appreciate her relationship with Emilia even more. It also provided the chance to witness Emilia as she was before she became twisted by grief and wrath after her sister's murder. I remember reading the prologue scenes of Emilia and Vittoria, observing the differences in character between the twins. Vittoria was clearly the bolder twin, more fascinated than scared by the dark magic their grandmother warned them against, and seemingly the most likely between the twins to embrace such magic and endure the repercussions happily. Emilia, on the contrary, was initially very soft and gentle, her ambition being to one day open up her own restaurant, only using light magic to help fuel part of its success. Regardless, you get to understand the twins' better as characters, and you mourn for both Vittoria and Emilia as each of them are lost in their own ways.
The Seven Deadly Sins being represented as the Princes of Hell in Kingdom of the Wicked was a fun and intriguing take. I loved reading how Emilia reacted to each devil as she encountered them. She did not have some unnatural immunity to their powers and she instead fell prey to them fully and rapidly, which underscored her humanity. Maniscalco did not try to make her to be an exception to the rule, a character that could dodge the wiles of the Princes. Witch or not, Emilia still came close to stabbing her jealous heart out in front of Envy, was likely fueled in her quest for vengeance by her proximity to Wrath, and was writhing with pleasure before Lust.
Quick tangent: I also thought it was incredible how Maniscalco wrote out the encounter with Lust and the aftermath that Emilia endured after he removed his power over her. When pleasure and ecstasy is forcibly taken, there is a void so dark that it sends Emilia into a deep state of depression for a while, unwilling and unable to continue her quest for answers. It was only through Wrath's intervention that Emilia was able to fully free herself from Lust's hold, but she did not escape without dealing with the repercussions. It was an unexpected but plausible method of execution of Lust's introduction.
Speaking of Wrath, the connection that he and Emilia share is peak enemies-to-lovers. The chemistry that they shared - both when delving into romantic territory and when they were trading verbal blows with one another - was riveting to experience. Despite the fact that they were accidentally tied together through a marriage bond, which may have been the primary reason behind Wrath's protection of Emilia, there were moments that depicted ways Wrath could care for her, a witch who was his sworn enemy. One of my favorite examples was following Emilia's ordeal with Lust, when Wrath brought Emilia the necessary components needed to heal from the ordeal and took pains to ensure that they were suited for a witch of the light. It gave me hope that, despite the bittersweet ending of the book, the story of Wrath and Emilia had not yet reached its conclusion. Perhaps it will be something to be explored in next book of the series, and I can't wait to see what's in store.
In all, I absolutely adored this book and am incredibly impatient for the sequel, Kingdom of the Cursed, to come out later this year. I am eager to see the world that had been explained but never physically depicted in Maniscalco's book, to finally witness the revelation of the Kingdom of the Wicked. I look forward to turning with a review for the sequel, and I have high hopes that it will impress me as much as its predecessor.