ARC Review: Kingdom of Back

So not to surprise anyone, but this is the first Marie Lu book I’ve ever read. I managed to trade for an ARC of this book from a friend and it was so good! I love historical fiction and as a classically trained flute player I’ve played a lot of Mozart. To get to see a new side to the composer and his lesser known sister was an experience for me. And to mix fantasy into it? Even better.

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Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Two siblings. Two brilliant talents. But only one Mozart.

Born with a gift for music, Nannerl Mozart has just one wish–to be remembered forever. But even as she delights audiences with her masterful playing, she has little hope she’ll ever become the acclaimed composer she longs to be. She is a young woman in 18th century Europe, and that means composing is forbidden to her. She will perform only until she reaches a marriageable age–her tyrannical father has made that much clear.

And as Nannerl’s hope grows dimmer with each passing year, the talents of her beloved younger brother, Wolfgang, only seem to shine brighter. His brilliance begins to eclipse her own, until one day a mysterious stranger from a magical land appears with an irresistible offer. He has the power to make her wish come true–but his help may cost her everything.

In her first work of historical fiction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu spins a lush, lyrically-told story of music, magic, and the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.

As a musician, reading about their playing and composition struggles hit home for me. I had composed some small pieces myself in music theory classes, including a duet I co-composed between flute and clarinet. It was very relatable for me to see struggles that they were going through and sympathize with the doubts Nannerl felt. While my flute playing never brought in any money, even though it could have, it was interesting to see the historical differences for Wolfgang (Woferl) vs. Maria Anna (Nannerl).

As a woman, Nannerl can only perform until she is of age to marry and can never compose. Meanwhile, Woferl can play and compose until his dying breath (which he did). When Nannerl wishes to be remembered, she is approached by a Guardian spirit – Hyacinth, who strikes a deal with her: if you complete three tasks for me I will make sure you are remembered forever.

So, first off this is not high fantasy. This is more like urban fantasy where the fantastical elements are hidden from the modern world, except the modern world is 18th century Austria. While the Kingdom of Back moments are filled with faeries and monsters alike, it is written more like a dream than a world beyond. I thought the tone of it fit the story well as the Kingdom was “created” by two children looking to escape from their world of societal expectations and music. But don’t be fooled, this is not a high fantasy novel and most of the book is not set in the fantasy world.

Once you get past that expectation it does fluidly mix the fantasy world and real world together. Most of the story takes place in the real world and is primarily historical fiction mixed with some fantasy, but I love historical fiction so it wasn’t an issue for me. We have moments of hidden faces and unexpected images which I thought was even better than spending the entire book in the Kingdom. We get to see the children grow up and face real things that happened to them: Wolferl getting sick frequently, Nannerl’s secret compositions, and their journey around Europe.

There wasn’t much that I didn’t like about the story honestly. I enjoyed seeing a young Wolfgang, since we really only hear about his scandalous days at court as a young man and not his childhood, and getting to learn about his sister Maria Anna. We see their relationship, their home life, their music careers. It reminds the reader that these were real people.

The thing that sealed the deal with this story was Marie’s author note at the end. This book was a decade long project for her and her objective made me cry. Nannerl did not get to grow up and be a musician and composer like Wolferl, but her music lives on, hidden in his work. Now, for the most part, girls can be whoever and do whatever they want. Nannerl’s wish was to live on forever and now she can, inspiring girls everywhere to live their dreams.

This book was a star.pngstar.pngstar.pngstar.png//5 star read for me. The ending made me emotional and brought back the reasons why I love music. I miss the experience of performing someone’s creation long after they are gone and bringing to light the world as they saw it.

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If this book sounds interesting, check out Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones.

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6 thoughts on “ARC Review: Kingdom of Back

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