The latest gothic-inspired novel by Tennessee-based author Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked,” is a fascinating blend of the supernatural and mystery genres; despite being a story about witches and demons, the murder mystery resembles Maniscalco’s earlier works.
The book, which was published Oct. 27, features compelling, witty characters, a plot that is fast-paced enough to enthrall any reader and vivid Italian food descriptions that are sure to tempt the reader to perhaps take up cooking, or at least order some Italian food soon. The story, set in 19th-century Sicily, follows Emilia di Carlo, a witch living among humans, as she enters the world of dark magic. She attempts to understand and avenge her twin sister Vittoria’s death. A true coming-of-age novel, “Kingdom of the Wicked” explores the character Emilia’s journey of understanding herself as well as her new surroundings.
In total, the book is Maniscalco’s fifth novel but is her first since wrapping up The New York Times-bestselling “Stalking Jack the Ripper” series. This new novel takes a different direction, moving away from history and science and more toward fantasy, while also maintaining many of the same elements.
Although the pace of the novel toward the beginning is a little slow, the gentle entry into the story allows for a more complex plot development as Maniscalco sets up the legends of the streghe (witches). She captures the reader from the very beginning by establishing intrigue: the first few pages alone reveal that beneath the murder lies a deeper mystery about a prophecy involving Emilia, Vittoria and the Princes of Hell, seven demons who are the witches’ worst fear.
These princes of the underworld are the “Wicked” in the book’s title, as they each embody one of the seven deadly sins. While this theme may seem obvious, Maniscalco complicates it by playing with the concept of evil in terms of how it is manifested both by the princes and in the human world. In the story, the Princes of Hell act as villains, suspects and Emilia’s love interests all at the same time. Despite the story’s enemies-to-lovers trope, Prince Wrath and Emilia’s romance is much more complex because of Wrath’s unique demonic nature and motivations. Additionally, the romance is not the focus of the story, often taking a backseat to Emilia’s persistent investigation and resulting character development.
Emilia grows significantly throughout the story. She begins as a simple, quiet character, enlivened by her love of food, but otherwise a typical person. After Vittoria’s death, her ordinary nature begins to change. Losing her twin sister forces her to mature and rethink her place in the world. Maniscalco uses this experience to explore how grief and the desire for vengeance can affect a person. However, aside from the trauma associated with the death of a family member, the Princes of Hell also play a large role in the development of Emilia’s character, as their presence in the story challenges her to question what she has been taught and confront the sins within herself. This adds another dimension of meaning to the story that makes it more unique and insightful, and the book will appeal to readers interested in the balance between morals and strategic thinking.
Even the side characters have complex backstories, although they are not prominently featured. Maniscalco isolates Emilia to allow her to explore the underworld alone, which takes away from the potential of other characters. The investigation itself is slow at times, hindered by the complexity of the plot. However, the supernatural elements of the story keep the reader constantly on edge, making the book a quick read. The witty dialogue that is typical of Maniscalco’s writing is prominent in the book, especially between Emilia and Wrath.
“Kingdom of the Wicked” is the first book in a duology, and as such, the cliffhanger ending leaves readers with several questions as they eagerly await the next entry. The gothic novel is a perfect read for Halloween and the fall season.