Do you love fantasy tropes? Do you love them a lot? Do you love them enough to read a book stitched together almost exclusively with every YA Fantasy-Romance trope that exists? If so, you won’t be able to help loving Kingdom of the Cursed. The second installment in the Kingdom of the Wicked series feels like a study in everything we love about YA Fantasy packed expertly into one extremely digestible volume. Kingdom of the Cursed feels familiar and comfortable, delivers all a reader could have wanted, and occasionally goes beyond to show its author’s genuine cleverness.
After selling her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, Emilia travels to the Seven Circles with the enigmatic Prince of Wrath, where she’s introduced to a seductive world of vice.
She vows to do whatever it takes to avenge her beloved sister, Vittoria… even if that means accepting the hand of the Prince of Pride, the king of demons.
The first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. With back-stabbing princes, luxurious palaces, mysterious party invitations, and conflicting clues about who really killed her twin, Emilia finds herself more alone than ever before. Can she even trust Wrath, her one-time ally in the mortal world… or is he keeping dangerous secrets about his true nature?=
Emilia will be tested in every way as she seeks a series of magical objects that will unlock the clues of her past and the answers she craves…
This review has some spoilers, but none that really matter.
ROMANCE AND WRATH
“Tell me,” he whispered, his voice sliding like silk over my flushed skin.
“What?” My own voice came out breathless.
“I am your favorite sin.”
This book is horny. Hornier than the first, and horny sometimes to the point of readers’ fatigue. In Kingdom of the Wicked, the mysterious realm from whence come the seven lords of hell is frequently hinted at but never revealed. In the sequel, the appropriately exciting and lush hell-realm sometimes fades into the background in favor of the roiling tension between Wrath and Emilia.
It’s a classic they can’t have sex but very much want to situation.
It’s a classic they really really like each other but can’t admit it situation.
It’s a classic they’re stuck in close quarters in the cold in an igloo with one room where they can’t wear clothes and must share body heat situation.
It’s a classic we’re engaged but just for convenience but also secretly like it situation.
It’s a classic let’s look intimidating and evil together in front of my court, Rhysand-Feyre style situation.
I could go on. You get the idea.
The two leads execute this hot-and-bothered dance extremely well, but for one strange scene that involves Wrath using his powers upon Emilia. He’s training her for the ball (a feast, but, well, good enough—there are masks and everything, we can check off this trope too) when his princely brothers will try to use their powers upon Emilia for their own amusement. This, however, is explained after the incident.
The incident involves Wrath essentially removing Emilia’s free will. This is near to the first time when Wrath does something objectively wrong—something that couldn’t be defended, say, by a dual-POV or a miscommunication.
Which is okay. Wrath is a demon prince. He’s not all good. And in this, he makes a big mistake. This injects some real growth into Wrath’s character, which is otherwise just a) hot b) whipped for Emilia and c) convienetly cursed to the point where he is unable to provide Emilia with any kind of helpful information.
Despite Wrath’s unhelpfulness—and the general unhelpfulness of literally everyone she comes across—Emilia unravels the mystery of the Kingdom of the Wicked with admirable agency. Constantly scheming, constantly testing the same ideas the reader is considering, Emilia makes mostly smart choices and never lets the plot get ahead of her. This fact–and the grounding of Emilia’s character in the murder of her twin in book one—keeps her immanently likeable and kind of awesome.
When we do get a moment alone with Emilia when she’s not horny over Wrath, the book gets significantly more unique. Maniscalco writes Emilia’s anger vividly and faithfully. The reader rarely forgets her wrathy motivations, which usually manifest physically as well as in Emilia’s inner monologue. Her skin flushes; she screams; she lashes —is the most beautiful aspect of the book.
CHEKOV IS TAPPING HIS FOOT
We didn’t see the Kingdom of the Wicked in the first book, titled Kingdom of the Wicked. We did not learn what the curse is in Kingdom of the Cursed. We have experienced no wedding, no, er, consummation, and we only meet the “devil”—Pride, who Emilia signs her life away to in the first novel–in the final fourth of Kingdom of the Cursed.
Maniscalco is taking her reveals and tossing them as far into the future as she can.
Which means that the final installment of the series is going to be absolutely wild, and that, conversely, Kingdom of the Cursed feels like a bridge. A flat bridge, slightly unimpressive, that soars above all the interesting stuff really going on below. The reader can see the general outline of what it’s going to look like, way down there below the bridge, but is not allowed to see it in full or really engage with it at all.
Overall, this is a solid, incredibly readable piece of NA Fantasy.
It has delicious tropes and Many Hot People. It is well-written. It includes some lovely descriptions of dresses and palaces and food and snowy vistas. But it also lacks anything particularly stunning and original that would have me raving.