Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco
Genre: Young adult, historical, paranormal
Publishing Info: ARC from Hodder & Stoughton
Star Rating: 3/5
Back Cover Summary:
Kerri Maniscalco introduces her next series, a dark tale of a beautiful young witch, a troubled demon, and their epic romance, set against a 19th century Italian backdrop.
Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe – witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to discover who did this, and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.
Then Emilia meets Wrath, the outlier among the seven demon brethren, always choosing duty over pleasure. He’s been tasked by his master with investigating a series of women’s murders on the island. When Emilia and Wrath’s fates collide, it’s clear this disturbing mystery will take a bewitching turn…
Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me an ARC of this book, which I won as part of an #atHomeYALC giveaway on Twitter!
Kerri Maniscalco, author of the Stalking Jack the Ripper series, brings us another historical murder mystery, this time set in 19th Century Italy. I haven’t yet read her popular Stalking Jack the Ripper series, but the blurb for Kingdom of the Wicked sounded delightfully intriguing, so I was looking forward to this read. Unfortunately, while Kingdom of the Wicked had all the ingredients for a great book, it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.
The opening was satisfyingly spooky and set up the book excellently. There are touches of this throughout the book, but the mysterious, eerie atmosphere isn’t utilised as much as it could have been.
The historical setting also wasn’t effectively conveyed. In the opening chapters, I had no idea in what time period the book was set. Since I knew Kerri Maniscalco had written historical fiction before, I guessed it was historical. But there wasn’t anything to indicate a time period. In the opening chapters, it could easily have read as having a modern setting, because there were no details that clearly showed when the novel was set. So I went digging for information and found a blurb online that said it was set in the 19th Century. But there’s quite a difference between early and late 19th Century. The one clue in the text is a mention of the ‘Kingdom of Italy’. A further online search and I discovered the Kingdom of Italy existed from 1861, meaning Kingdom of the Wicked must be set sometime after that. Emilia is supposed to be the one solving a mystery, not me! For a historical novel, it really was lacking in historical details and flourishes. I didn’t feel immersed in the setting at all. It felt vaguely historical, but there wasn’t anything to tie it to its particular time period.
Another big problem I had was Emilia. Her character seemed inconsistent and at times even contradictory. She’s described as being different from Vittoria, who is more daring and wild. At the beginning of her detective mission, Emilia regularly tells herself to be more like Vittoria. But then after that she doesn’t show any signs of trepidation. She throws herself into solving the mystery and hardly hesitates when she is faced with danger. Plus she is totally comfortable talking to a demon and exchanging witty banter and making threats, and so on. It just doesn’t fit the way her character is presented at the beginning of the book. If she’d been shown to be like Vittoria, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye, but the author specifically says she’s not like her at the beginning.
There were other issues too in specific scenes where things didn’t quite make sense. In the latter stages of the book, a character tells Emilia to run when they are in danger. She doesn’t run, which is fine. But she just stands there and there is no explanation whatsoever as to why she just stands there. Why doesn’t she run? Is she paralysed with fear? Does she not want to abandon the other character? The focus of the scene is on what’s happening with the other character, and Emilia’s perspective is forgotten. I wanted to know what she was thinking! Most of the time we get too many of her thoughts, then in a crucial scene they are missing. There are just a few instances like that where I just felt frustrated. There were also times where I didn’t understand what was happening, like things hadn’t been described clearly enough, leaving me feeling a bit confused.
We have a world with witches and demons and there is so much potential in this world that Kerri Maniscalco has created. But I didn’t get a good grasp of that world. I got the sense as the book went along that all the things Emilia had been told about witches and demons by her family were perhaps not entirely accurate, but then when she learns new information, a lot of the explanations don’t make sense, or things just aren’t properly explained. So I didn’t feel I understood this magical world at all.
It felt messy. I know it’s an advanced copy and not the finished text, but I hope there are a few more edits between this and the final version because it really needs tightening up. There are so many great things about this book, but it’s overshadowed by the problems I’ve discussed above. I have to review the copy I’ve been given, not what the finished text might be, because for all I know, there might not be many more changes before publication.
After all that, you may be wondering why I gave this book 3 stars and not lower. Well, there was a lot a did like. I loved the concept. A murder mystery set in 19th Century Italy with witches and demons? I was all in for that. The Princes of Hell are so sinister and really well presented as the embodiment of the seven deadly sins. I also liked the enemies-to-lovers romance more than I thought I would.
The book ends on a major cliffhanger, and part of me wants to know what happens next, but did I enjoy this first book enough to persevere with the series? Part of me is also curious to read a finished copy of Kingdom of the Wicked, to see if any of the issues I had are ironed out before publication, but I have so many books to read and I’m not sure I want to spend more time on a book that might just not be for me.