Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco | Book review

21st October 2020
Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco | Book review 1

A twig was just a bit of broken wood until it had been sharpened into a spear. Grief carved me in half. And fury honed the pieces into a weapon.

Now it was time to unleash it.

Kingdom of the wicked, Kerri maniscalco

We’re both back for another joint review! (Strangely enough, our second joint review is also on a book featuring demonic love interests, so we may have a theme going.) Kerri Maniscalco’s Kingdom of the Wicked was an anticipated 2020 release for both of us, and you can read both of our reviews below. As usual for us, Imi’s review is shorter and packed full of excellent quotes drawn from the novel, whereas Ellie’s is slightly longer.

Cover of Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1) by Kerri Maniscalco

YA Fantasy | Historical
Hodder & Stoughton
Releases 27 October 2020

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…

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I received an uncorrected proof copy for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review.
Any quotes used in this review are subject to change upon release.


Imi’s thoughts

Kingdom of the Wicked was a slow build for me. I was super excited by the premise and desperate to get my hands on it, but I wasn’t really into the book for the first 100 or so pages. I found the world-building quite simplistic to the point where I couldn’t tell that it was historical at times (give them mobile phones and it could have been set today), and this took me out of the story at the beginning.

HOWEVER, shit went down and when the stakes were raised and things got real, I went all in and it was fast.

Young women died. Life resumed. Such was the way of the world, at least according to men.

So, the premise is that women, specifically young witches, have been found dead and with their hearts removed across Sicily and no one knows why – but there’s a feeling in the air and it feels like the Wicked are coming. The Wicked are the princes of Hell (named for the seven deadly sins) who the witches have been warned against their whole lives.

After the death of her twin, Emilia makes it her life goal to hunt down her murderer and bring him to justice, but in doing so she makes an ally of Wrath, one of the Wicked. He is the dark, brooding love interest of every young person’s dreams – dangerous, handsome, frequently found topless for no reason and could easily slit your throat as quickly as he could kiss it.

He was death and rage and fire and anyone stupid enough to forget that would be consumed by his inferno.

Emilia’s personal growth throughout Kingdom of the Wicked is also notable. She often says Vittoria was the bold twin, she was the one who would go out and get shit done while she would stay home. At times, this constant reminder that Vittoria was so brave and brilliant became a dull refrain, but it also somewhat worked as a reminder of how far Emilia has come.

Hone your anger and sorrow into weapons of use, or go back home and cry until the monsters come for you. Because come for you they will.

She learns to trust herself, while not trusting others too readily, and she learns to depend on her own ferocity and loyalty as well as her love of her family. Emilia certainly had a tendency to come across as annoying, especially in the early stages of the book, but as I progressed, I found myself rooting for her more and more. I feel like she is very much a protagonist who grows on you as she discovers more and develops as a witch and a young adult.

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

Okay, let’s talk about the romance because HELLO. Dark prince of Hell enemies to lovers, yes please! I loved the build of tension between Emilia and Wrath, the way that despite the lack of trust, there was still some form of allyship which is clearly building for something more in the next book. The tension was *chefs kiss* and the romantic moments they did share in this book made the slow start so worth it.

We traded kisses like blows. And if this were a fight, I wouldn’t know who was winning.

Basically, I really enjoyed this despite the slow start and so-so moments. I found Emilia really grew on me as a character and I’m very interested to see where this is going with the next book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ellie’s thoughts

So, I’m a big fan of the gothic and I’m also quite a fan of Maniscalco’s prior Stalking Jack the Ripper series. People may also know I am heavily interested in the historical fantasy sub-genre of fantasy, so when Maniscalco announced she was releasing a book set in nineteenth century Sicily with a devil love interest . . . readers, there was no other words to describe my emotions other than absolutely ecstatic. I was even more delighted when I heard Hodder & Stoughton had picked up UK rights, as Maniscalco’s prior series only had a US publisher. Also it meant I could get my hands on this arc, so.

With established authors such as Maniscalco, they are often given a bit more room in the pacing and development department. Kingdom of the Wicked has a slow-build opening that some authors would not have been allowed, but I relished in this opportunity to learn about Emilia’s world. The death of Emilia’s sister Vittoria isn’t immediate, which surprised me as it is the inciting point of the novel. But it does allow readers the opportunity to learn more about Vittoria before she dies, which is nice as you then invest in Emilia’s love for her, and understand why Emilia does the things she does whilst seeking out Vittoria’s murderer. Similarly, the rest of the novel is not as quickly paced as one may expect – but it isn’t slow, either. Like Stalking Jack the Ripper, Kingdom of the Wicked has a murder mystery at its core, but the clues in Kingdom of the Wicked are a bit more drawn out.

In Kingdom of the Wicked, Maniscalco swaps the rain-soaked streets of Victorian London for the sun-drenched marketplaces of nineteenth century Sicily. Maniscalco’s descriptions of Italian and Sicilian cuisine will have readers salivating. However, despite being set over the summer, Kingdom of the Wicked is a perfectly gothic read thanks to its abundance of witches and demons and even the rare vampire and werewolf. Kingdom of the Wicked also leans much more fantastical than Stalking Jack the Ripper ever did. It also doesn’t feel as . . . historical, you could say. Stalking Jack the Ripper was undeniably Victorian, whereas Kingdom of the Wicked feels modern in places despite the nineteenth century setting. I’m putting this down to some of Emilia’s dialogue and actions in addition to Maniscalco’s writing (for instance: ‘tub’ for bathtub & ‘train of thought’), which I personally think erred a little on the contemporary. Similarly, there was nothing pinning down a specific timeframe within the nineteenth century, so the chronology was a little loose at the edges (I’m guessing end of the 19th century due to the mention of a shower and thus indoor plumbing in one scene, but I can’t be sure). Similarly, no references to the wider world (or worldwide historical events/clothing fashions/etc) meant it felt a little like second-world fantasy rather than historical. This absolutely wasn’t an issue at all for me, but it was something I noted.

Now, my favourite part of the novel: Wrath. Goodness gracious me. Be still, my heart. It’s ridiculous that I’ve been confronted with two heart-stealing/heart attack-inducing demonic love interests within the same few weeks (Luc from The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue being the other). Wrath charmed me from the very first moment he was introduced. Maniscalco really knows how to write a love interest, and I have no doubt Wrath will delight readers just as Thomas Cresswell (from Stalking Jack the Ripper) does. Perhaps even more so. I cannot wait to see fanart of him, as he has a very Cardan-esque (from The Cruel Prince by Holly Black) vibe in clothing.

I actually didn’t take quote notes for this novel besides two relating to Wrath. Because I’m nice, let me drop them below even if they’ll add absolutely nothing to this review except to solidify the fact that Wrath himself is a good enough reason to read this book:

He offered me a smile that probably made men piss themselves.

This was not the kind of prince written about in fairy tales. There was no golden crown sitting upon his dark head, or promises of safety waiting in his sculpted, tattooed arms. He was death and rage and fire and anyone stupid enough to forget that would be consumed by his inferno.

Emilia and Wrath fulfill the ever-so-popular enemies to lovers trope. Their arguing is forceful and absolutely divine; I was cackling at their exchanges. That said, Wrath actually wasn’t as involved in the story in the way I thought – I thought he and Emilia would investigate Vittoria’s death together, but Emilia actually leaves him trapped in a summoning circle and investigates solo for about the first third of the book. And Wrath as a character . . . he’s supposed to be a big bad prince of Hell whose domain is War, but actually he’s elegant and suave and deep down quite soft. There were these little gestures that made me so smile (ensuring Emilia was covered by a blanket when sleeping; leaving Emilia her favourite flowers; etc). Their romance is quite a slow burn, all things considered. I truly do I wish I had been given more of these two in Kingdom of the Wicked, and I’m really intrigued to see where book two goes regarding their relationship, given the ending.

Here’s another errant quote from Emilia that made me laugh and also summarises their bickering quite well:

“Are you sure you’re of House Wrath? If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were general to a vacuous, shirtless battalion belonging to House Narcissism.”

Despite loving the romance within Kingdom of the Wicked, I had a few issues with the way the narrative was arranged. I felt that sometimes there were stretches between Emilia finding a clue, and sometimes things clicked for her abruptly and rather quickly. In other words: too easy. I also felt that for the amount of times Emilia encountered the Princes of Hell (who are always framed as terrifying) she always got away rather unscathed – especially considering how bold she is at times. (That said, I want to say that I did really like Emilia as a heroine.) Also, the killer reveal was . . . I don’t know, unexpected but also expected? I would have also liked to see characters such as Antonio and Claudia make more of an appearance within the story, rather than being pushed to the sides. There was certainly enough narrative room where they could have been featured in more scenes.

Nevertheless, Kingdom of the Wicked ends on a cliffhanger that will have readers excited to read book two. I know I am! Maniscalco has written another thoroughly enjoyable book that I completely devoured over two days, and I can’t believe I have to wait a year to see more of Emilia and Wrath. The second book promises a new realm and a deeper dive into the witch folklore and prophecy that underpins the whole novel, and I will be anxiously waiting for its release.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Representation and content warnings

Rep:

Content warnings: Grief, loss of a loved one, murder, gore, bloodletting, mind control, near-death experience. This list is not conclusive. Please use caution if you think you may be affected by any of these things.

TL;DR: Kingdom of the Wicked is an enjoyable dark paranormal read with the brooding, dangerous love interest and slow-burn romance dreams are made of.


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