I’m excited to bring you my first (of many!) reviews. This is a review of Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco.
3.5 / 5 stars
One brutal murder.
A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…
And an intoxicating romance.
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 find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost – even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.
Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked – princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…
I’ve read Kerri Maniscalco’s other highly-acclaimed series, Stalking Jack the Ripper, and loved it so I went into this with high hopes. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet my expectations.
Overall, it was good, not great. I’m bummed because I really wanted to fall in love with this new series (and tried!) but at the end of the day, there were a number of problems too distracting for me to fully love this book.
Honestly, my favorite character was Wrath, not the main character Emilia. Emilia was a bit unrelatable to me. She’s characterized as smart and timid when other characters talk about her (or she reflects about herself), but portrayed as reckless and all over the place by her actions. Obviously the grief of losing her twin brings about that shift, but even before Vittoria’s murder the “shy and smart” characterization didn’t really come through.
I really liked Wrath. I thought Maniscalco did a good job personifying the sins we met, though they could have stood to be even more evil.
Besides Emilia and the sins (Princes of Hell), the only other character who seems fleshed out is Nonna, Emilia and Vittoria’s grandmother. I think she was supposed to be portrayed as cool and powerful, but that’s not how I read her. She kept life-or-death secrets from the girls, then when one of them died, she was surprised—as if the information she had kept to herself wouldn’t have saved Vittoria.
The rest of Emilia’s family was completely one-dimensional and only there in certain scenes to prove Emilia wasn’t an orphan. Her friends were the same.
As someone with an Italian heritage, I was excited to read a story based in Italy. I think Maniscalco did a great job with the scents of the city, but most of the other descriptions were left up to the reader’s interpretation. The only places I felt I had a solid view in my mind were the cavern by the sea and Wrath’s ruined palace. That’s more of a knock on my imagination, though.
I actually had a problem with the time period too. I didn’t realize it was set in the 19th century until halfway through—everything in the world seemed semi-modern. Even after I realized it (by reading a blurb online), I’d argue it’s still not clear when this story is set.
As far as the magic system goes, I wasn’t fully immersed. I kept trying to remember what witches had which type of magic and the rules that confined them. Demon magic seemed infinitely more thought out, but the rules of it seemed to weaken the potency of it, leading me to believe witches are stronger than demons (which is fine, but demonstrate it in the book).
Mild Spoilers Below.
Ugh, this is where the book’s low rating really comes from. To be 100% honest, it felt like a 300-page set up for the “real” book that will be the sequel. There were too many easter eggs or foreshadowing scenes that were never brought up again.
Another thing: Everything was so convenient and somehow at the same time, all over the place. I called the villain within the first chapter or two and, unlike Maniscalco’s other books, I didn’t have fun during the rest of the book to see if I was right. We didn’t get a resolution to the quest for Vittoria’s murder either which is fine, but I’d have liked at least a bit of progress toward it. The book ended with us knowing pretty much the same thing we did at the start of it.
The biggest holes were Emilia getting away with a lot, especially with the Princes of Hell. I’m not sure if that was because she was “marked” by Wrath, but if it was it wasn’t mentioned, which deteriorated the strength of the Princes in my eyes.
In my opinion, the way the book was framed led to my disappointment. It promises an intoxicating romance (no) and persuades the reader to believe Wrath and Emilia will work together begrudgingly to solve what happened (also no). I’ll talk about the romance later, but Emilia investigates mostly on her own. If I had liked her more than Wrath, I probably would have preferred that.
Though I felt like nothing really “happened” in the book, the pacing is one of the things pulling my rating of Kingdom of the Wicked up. This book is such an easy read. I read it across two days, an hour the first day and finished it the next night. If you’re looking for a semi-spooky YA to gobble up, I highly recommend this one.
Wrath and Emilia’s relationship had okay chemistry, but I didn’t buy into their enemies-to-lovers schtick that much. As much as I loved Wrath, his kindness/gooey softness in their relationship was a little uncharacteristic and wasn’t explained. Then the “twist” at the end kind of made me hate their relationship — it wasn’t really a twist, Emilia overreacted because it wasn’t surprising at all, and now that they’re behind square one for book 2, I’m not really rooting for them to get together.
Emilia and her family had a pretty close bond, I guess? I don’t have a sister so maybe that relationship would resonate more with readers who have siblings/are close with their siblings. Her parents had almost no effect on the story and her grandmother (who I already groused about) was only available to Emilia to give enough information to tease but not reveal anything we actually wanted to know.
I would have loved to see more scenes with Claudia and Antonio.
Did I hate the book? No, not at all.
Will I recommend it to friends or read it again? No, not at all.
I’ll probably buy the next in the series because I like Wrath enough to see where his story goes, but after the lackluster “mysteries” from two of the four books in her first series and now Kingdom, I won’t go in expecting much. Maybe I’ll enjoy it more that way.
Have you also read Kingdom of the Wicked? What did you think? Tell me in the comments below!