The Kingdom of Back | Marie Lu
Hardcover: 313 pgs
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
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.
The Kingdom of Back is a historical fiction/fantasy centered on the lives of the Mozart siblings. Maria Anna, or Nannerl, was a talented young musician and composer who has often been overlooked in history due to her younger brother’s prodigious talent and rise to fame. Nannerl is generally unacknowledged in the musical world, but Marie Lu endeavored to bring a voice to this historical figure and to further shine a light on her relationship to Wolfgang Amadeus, and all things considered, I think she succeeded.
I was very impressed with Lu’s writing for this book. It was lush with description and rich in feeling. The imaginings that formed the Kingdom of Back were abundant with whimsy and pure, unadulterated child-like vision. I definitely felt like a kid again breaking open a fresh, new storybook when reading this. The siblings’ imaginations ran wild, and it was gloriously unique in its lyrical darkness.
Not only was the writing strong and vivid, but the characters were as well, especially Nannerl. Her position elicited sympathy and understanding, especially from those who wish to be remembered and recognized for the greatness that lives within them. Lu dived deep into Nannerl’s psyche and the complexities that lay within her character, particularly regarding her ambitions and her relationship with her brother. Can you love someone who steals the spotlight, but does so innocently? How can you be remembered when you live in a time when women were asked to remain silent and invisible? Lu does an excellent job exploring these questions and in doing so, creates a dynamic relationship between Nannerl and Woferl.
There is much to love about this book, but there were many times that there wasn’t much happening. It felt slow in some places, especially when the siblings stepped away from their imaginings. On top of that, the visits to the Kingdom of Back were short-lived and rushed. Nannerl’s tasks in the world come and go and I wish that Lu had lingered a beat longer in the otherworld so that we could truly fall into the vision of it.
Overall, this was a beautifully worded book with sympathetic characters and music on every page. While a bit dull and rushed at times, The Kingdom of Back is ultimately a character driven story with fantastical elements weaved throughout. If you listen to some Mozart in the background, the experience is only bettered.