Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Themes

  • demonology, Hell, demonic hierarchy, witches, superstitions, occult/Christianity, contracts/bargains, soul stealing
  • vendetta, murder mystery, serial killer, twins/sisters bonding, manipulation/coercion
  • female heroine, female protagonist, turn of the century, period fiction, fantasy, betrothal

“People carved words into weapons often, but they only had power if I listened to them instead of trusting in myself.”

Another in a slew of “highly recommended” titles this year, I decided to try yet again to find a book that explores dark themes, morally grey protagonists, and adequate enemies to lovers tropes. If I’m being honest, Kingdom of the Wicked delivered much of those promises. I enjoyed the detail that was put into Emilia’s life: rich flavors, fluid townscapes, and close-knit family ties. The entire scene is painted for us throughout the beginning of the book: twin sisters in a family of witches, infusing their restaurant and their town with love and warmth. The actual dates are somewhat ambiguous I would place it somewhere maybe within the late 1800s, perhaps around the turn of the century when Christianity is the major religion and superstitious practices are prosecuted by the church who holds all true authority.

When Emilia’s twin sister becomes one in a series of violent murders sweeping Italy, her sister vows to find her murderer and avenge her death by any means necessary. As she retraces her sister’s steps, Emilia learns that her sister was dangerously enamored with the dark arts, and even had potentially had dealings with the princes of Hell. Enter Wrath: the result of a botched summoning as Emilia hoped to commission a lesser demon to aid her. He finds himself bound to the Earthly realm and the novice who summoned him while they both track the murderer for very different reasons.

This novel was fun and dark, it was imaginative and written well. The characters are consistent throughout, they always act true to their nature even as their perspectives shift and their alliances come into question. Maniscalco allows her main characters to be multidimensional, although the demon princes are the living embodiment of the seven sins, they are allowed to feel and express the full spectrum of emotions. Calculating and cunning, they are each plotting for their own purposes, and none is entirely ruled by their namesake.

There were points in the novel where I was a bit confused though, mostly at the very end of the novel. I reread some parts, trying to figure out if there was something I missed. In particular, Emilia’s reactions to certain events had me questioning her judgement. As soon as she realizes who/what she summoned, she vows to herself not to accept any of their offers, much to the chagrin of Wrath whose own goals seem most closely aligned with hers. Their chemistry is evident and the pair do manage to cooperate with one another. This is a blessing, as I have found most authors get hung up on emphasizing incompatibilities and inadvertently create relationships that either stymie the plot or go against the nature of their characters. Gladly this is not the case.

While I will not give spoilers, I will say that the end comes with a twist that was unexpected as Emilia’s promise to avenge her sister at all costs is called into question. The costs of her vendetta climb higher and higher, and the treachery of those closest to her is par for the course. A wonderful book with strong characters and a compelling plot. I was surprised and devastated to find that some character development had been essentially reset in the final chapters of the book, but I am not deterred. While the elements may seem cliché, it is what the author chooses to do with them, and how the characters react to them with a will of their own that decides the quality of a story. The landscape of Italy was beautiful and dark, but I look forward to the sequel this October, which promises to explore Hell with an equally tasteful eye.

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