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Kingdom of The Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco Book Review

Title: Kingdom of The Wicked

Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)

Description: Two sisters.

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…

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Trigger Warnings: Murder, Gore, Violence

Kingdom of The Wicked is the first book in a new series by Kerri Maniscalco, the author of the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. She describes a pitch-black world of hell, demons, and witches scattered through our reality and the Kingdom of The Wicked. The heroine, Emilia, is on a warpath in search of retribution for the murder of her sister when she meets the enigmatic prince of hell, Wrath. They quickly find themselves in an entanglement of secrecy and sweet lies.

The setting is a mix of a charming real-world style and that of an elaborate fantasy, which is the difference between the human world and that of the Wicked. Kerri Maniscalco sets the scene in a dramatic fashion in the ways of the great playwrights of the past. A slight disconnect manifests from the reality of our world that lends itself to the fantasy elements. There's a hectic normalcy to the setting of magic and mayhem. It contains all of the epic notions of lust and wrath in a setting as dark as the character's haunting it. An array of colorful characters litter the consistent setting that is inevitably upheaved. It leaves the reader stranded on an island of desolation in the wake of the shift.

Darkness eats away at Emilia in her spiral of grief. It makes her need to find answers for her sister's death no matter the cost. This is really the only Emilia the reader knows, her jaded and battered self. Emilia is passionate about everything from her love of her family to her quest for justice to her hatred. Blood pounds in the reader's ears as they experience everything Emilia does. Her life. Her magic. Her loss. Her thirst for revenge. The quest for vengeance is a winding path not easy to be strayed from. It ends up leading her straight to the door of the wicked, and, subsequently, Wrath.

Emilia and Wrath are always sharing metaphorical blows in their attempts to stay one step ahead of the other. Espionage is a quiet war in the book as Emilia and Wrath gather information like weapons. Unsettling ease falls between the pair that they fight against. They both tumble into a rhythm together as if they've known each other forever. Emilia and Wrath are two pieces torn from the same cloth yet so adamant against the idea. They are so irrevocably connected to one another that it is sometimes impossible to tell where one needs and the other begins.

While the book is of the fantastical variety, it feels uniquely real in its portrayal of the bonds of characters. Relationships in the book evolve over the course of the narrative. Some potent ones dwindle while others solidify themselves. The author skillfully pushes each relationship to its limit, whether for better or worse. No avenue is unexplored when it comes to the dynamics of every individual.

Family is the backbone of the book. Its strength pushes the story along the winding plot. In moments of joy and heartbreak, it stands tall amid the chaos. The familial dynamics are the truest to form in their amusement. It is the thread of commonality shared by each character gracing the pages. In particular, Emilia and her family are united through their two great loves aside from each other, magic and food. The story is firmly rooted in their Italian heritage and how it relates to their witchy ancestry.

Kerri Maniscalco spins legends and folklore like twine. They wrap around themselves to increase the strength of singular stories passed along. Enchanting legends make the story stand out among a sea of others. A combination of religion and burning hell fire make up the lore of the story. Rules of the universe in the book are meticulously crafted and delivered in sparring dialogue. Traditions passed down from the generations are at the heart of the book's magic.

Powerful emotions are a formidable tool wielded by the author. Infused with heart and soul, every aspect of the book from magic to character dynamics to the recipes of Emilia's family take on a life of their own. Temperatures run high as the stakes continue to grow with every turn of the page. The book is fiery in all its details. Sacrifice is done with the same fury as everything else in the book. There's a raw lust to the book underlying the desires of everyone. The author is a master of enrapturing the reader into a whirlwind of feelings.

There's a carefully constructed line between morality and the opposite. Shades of grey splatter the darkness of the book. The author dishes out rambling prophecy like a foreboding thing to be dreaded. She personifies the seven deadly sins like exact replicas of what they represent. Handsome men with alluring temptation, they lurk in the shadows of the book. The portrayal of the princes of hell are slick like oil and bitter like turpentine. While the book is theatrically dark, it also shows glimpses of humor throughout.

The further into the book you go, the clearer the emerging tropes become. Every time the reader thinks they understand what is happening, they are sent into another tailspin. Abrupt normalcy changes the pace of the book and brings the reader out of boredom. It is often followed by bouts of excitement in an enticing cycle. Tiny webs of relevancy connect the smallest of clues. Each word is layered with a weighted heaviness that drags the reader further down the rabbit hole. Words are spoken with immeasurable conviction.

Kingdom of The Wicked has some of the elements of a good old-fashioned detective book. There's a slight detachment from certain scenes that I usually only find in mystery novels. It takes a bird's eye view of the plot. The most prominent mystery is full of whiplash-inducing twists and turns that would be the envy of any thriller. It contains a twisting maze of motivations and secrets. Mystery shrouds the grander picture from view as the reader tries to slot the pieces together. Kerri Maniscalco knows how to write scenes with quick efficiency that still manage not to spare on the tension. The author reveals only information that is both relevant and intriguing. There is no incessant sludge surrounding what is a good story.

My favorite kind of fantasy novel is, and always will be, a dark fantasy - and Kingdom of The Wicked does it well. The book is a sure-fire knockout for Kerri Maniscalco of Stalking Jack the Ripper notoriety. It is the first book I've read by the author and I can't imagine jumping in anywhere else. Kingdom of The Wicked has given me a renewed interest in the author's past books and solidified her place as an author to keep an eye on in the future. As this series progresses, I look forward to the rest of the delightfully wicked story.

Book Depository // Barnes & Noble


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