The Gold Standard in YA Historical Fantasy

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What’s a girl to do when a glowing, wistful stranger appears in a time of need with the opportunity of a lifetime? Does she even question it? Would you? You might not if you were Marianne (Nannerl) Mozart, who grew up in the shadow of her younger brother, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The book I anticipated to be a cute, little story about “the girl everyone forgot,” turned out to be the beautifully intimate and unapologetic journey of a woman I feel I've always known. The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu is a stunning quest narrative about a musical prodigy and her search to find acclaim as a composer.

Okay, I loved this book. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Marie Lu exhibits an unwavering ability to find the human in the fantastical. While this is certainly a book with fantasy (magic, faeries, the whole shebang), I never felt completely lost in a land of make-believe, whose problems exist independently of our own. This is a GOOD thing. The fantastical elements are believable, and you can understand why Nannerl might sometime confuse the two, coexisting realities in the novel.

2. Nannerl is misfortunate but not pathetic. She is a strong, resilient protagonist, which I wasn’t counting on given the historical context of this novel (Salzburg, Austria 1759). Even though her parents encourage the gender roles of the time period, Nannerl is willing to look a challenge--and her father--directly in the eye. That’s not to say she has control of everything in her life (far from it). But, she holds herself accountable for what she can, and for that, I’m pleasantly surprised.

3. Woferl isn’t portrayed as “masculine.” He finds comfort in being close to his sister when he’s scared, and he isn’t afraid to take criticism from her regarding his compositions; in fact, he frequently asks her opinion.

Ultimately, The Kingdom of Back is just as much a chronicle of the relationship Nannerl has with herself as it is a chronicle of the relationship she has with her brother and family. It is filled with beautiful subtlety and moments of immense tragedy, and I promise it’s worth the read if you get the chance.

And, yes, I ugly cried over this book.

Notable Elements: Magic, Quest, Historical, Family drama

Be mindful: Slow build