If anyone knows anything about me, then it’s understood that I am an absolute sucker for villainous love interests and power couples. The darker the better. So giving me a love interest who is not only a villain, but an actual demon is the quickest way to get me to read it. Kerri Maniscalco is becoming one of my go-to authors for that reason! And she has come with a wonderful new cannoli-eating bae for me named Wrath!
Kingdom of the Wicked is a fun dark fantasy YA that I hope will become a favorite of mine as the series goes on. It tells the story of an Italian witch named Emilia who summons a prince of Hell to help her solve and get revenge for her twin sister’s gruesome murder.
Let me start by saying that the worldbuilding – which is the singular most important part of any fantasy for me – is actually very tight and cohesive. There’s no barely-there planning and poor conception around this fantasy Italy and its witch families. I was able to understand how magic worked and when something new was introduced, it didn’t feel out of the realm of possibility for the world itself. For that, I say fucking bravo because I rarely read YA whose worldbuilding is actually given time and care.
The plot was very good, but the pacing left a bit to be desired. It chaotically flipped between too slow and then arrhythmically fast – especially near the end. It felt like she was running out of time – which I find is a problem with a lot of YA. The reveals and twists were predictable but not in a way that lowered my entertainment. I was actually very satisfied with a few of my predictions. My main beef with the story is that it held back severely. There were a lot of points where it was obviously struggling to remain in a YA space. I feel this is a sign for Kerri Maniscalco to graduate out of YA because Stalking Jack the Ripper had this same issue. From some of the visuals to the interactions between the characters, there was always the strange cap on how far she would go.
For instance, the Princes of Hell – including our main prince, Wrath – would steal the show each time they appeared. However, their sinisterness, while present, felt severely nerfed. It could easily be my own personal bias, but if you wish to give me Princess of Hell in any capacity – especially modeled after the seven deadly sins, then I want them to exude a level of will and power that will make me believe the characters are in real dangers rather than just telling me. Wrath came close to satisfying this a multitude of times but always restricted him to an almost PG sort of violence. It was as if Maniscalco was afraid to let him truly be dark and violent. I hope this will be remedied as the books progress.
This brings me to my next criticism: I feel this should’ve been a dual-POV story.
I believe Emilia is tolerable. She does have an unhealthy dose of YA protagonist syndrome – or as I like to call it, dumb bitch syndrome. There were many times when I wanted to just punch her in the face and I actively questioned how Wrath could care about her more often than I should. However, I ended up finding her rage, grief, and willingness to push forward endearing. I basically resigned myself to actually rooting for her and wanting more out of her. She especially shined when her need for vengeance and her dabbling in dark magic was on display. I did need a break from her every now and then. I would’ve liked to have had Wrath’s POV to balance her out. It would also give a better build-up for her suspicion and distrust if we actually got to follow Wrath and see him being a Prince of Hell in her absence. The entire story being from Emilia’s point of view was a limitation that actively hurt the telling of a very good story. Especially since their dynamic was fun and when they went dark, it became exhilarating.
I think honestly, I desired this novel to be a bit more mature in its darker themes. I wanted it to go further.
I suppose it sounds like I disliked this novel, but in all actuality, I absolutely loved it. Because it was so enjoyable, the flaws were very frustrating to me. I became invested despite them and I think that’s the point in the end. It was definitely a mid-tier read, but it’s definitely earned its place on my shelf and I would recommend it as long as it’s understood that it being YA is the major limitation of it. I’m anticipating book two in hopes of improvement and answers to all the plotlines from the first novel. Give Kingdom of the Wicked a try. I highly recommend it. It’s such a fun, dark YA Fantasy.
Good god, I want to write my own demon husbandos!
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