Witchcraft, Murder and Demon Princes from Hell: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

After a disappointing and frustrating experience with Stalking Jack the Ripper back in 2019, I was extremely hesitant to read Kingdom of the Wicked. But, in the end, there were just too many of my favourite buzz words associated with it to resist.

Who, What, Where?

The story follows Emilia, a Sicilian witch who has grown up being told terrifying stories about the demon princes of the underworld. When she finds her twin sister, Vittoria, murdered, Emilia vows to track down the culprit and get revenge. However, Vittoria is only the latest in a string of dead witches. Desperate for answers, Emilia summons a demon. To her shock, it’s no lower level lackey who answers her call but one of the princes, Wrath, with his own reasons for wanting to investigate the murders. And so, Emilia and Wrath come to an agreement to work together. However, Wrath isn’t the only demon, or member of the royal family, who’s recently appeared in Palermo.

Too Fast, Too Slow

One of the main issues I had with KotW was Maniscalco’s writing style. First up, there’s quite a lot of telling vs showing going on, especially in the first half of the book, and often in the form of Q&A type conversations. Second, there were points where I couldn’t help feeling as though certain scenes/developments were slightly rushed and would have benefited from greater build up or descriptive detail. This would have enhanced the sense of drama and better helped the reader follow what was happening. Prominent examples include the discovery of Vittoria’s body and the book’s end sequence, during which I was muddled as to what exactly was going on. Then, on the other hand, there were other scenes where it felt like we lingered too long. Did I really need to read about Emilia preparing what I’m sure was a lovely bruschetta? Probably not.

All About that Atmosphere

The atmosphere in this book is great. The descriptions of the buildings, food, markets, sounds and smells of Palermo worked wonderfully in not only creating lush Sicilian settings but varying the story’s tone from chapter to chapter. One minute we’re in a sunny, bustling, seaside city with the characters enjoying tasty cannoli, the next Emilia is rushing around ominous, darkened streets with demons potentially around the corner. Yet, I do have to mention that as I was reading I had trouble placing when the story was set. Had I not gone back to check the blurb before writing this review, I still wouldn’t be sure. While KotW is a fantasy, it takes place in a real part of the world and aside from a few references to clothing, there aren’t many era indicators which would have better helped immerse me in the story.

Witch/Detective/Chef

As a heroine, Emilia is a mixed bag. While I appreciated her tenacity, love for her sister, and passion for food, she has a habit of making annoyingly naïve, rash and bad decisions. At first, I was willing to let these slide but there comes a point where you wish you could just shake some common sense into her. She gets fixated on illogical theories despite there being a valid explanation to counteract them and often charges into danger without a proper plan. Here’s hoping for some improvement in book two.

Not So Fairy Tale Prince

In comparison, Wrath is a more interesting and less frustrating character. Mysterious, slightly dramatic, kind of a flirt, and I enjoyed Maniscalco’s somewhat dry approach to his humour. The only problem is that even after a whole book, I still know barely anything about him, which is very disappointing, but I expect that will change drastically in the next book. The interactions between Emilia and Wrath take some time to properly get going but I really enjoyed their conversations and seeing them slowly learn to trust one another, despite their opposition to the other’s species. Plus, the sexual tension is definitely something I’m keen to see more of *winks*.

No Rest for the Wicked

When it comes to the actual plot, KotW took a good while to grow on me. After the original set up, the earlier chapters deal mostly with Emilia attempting to investigate the murders on her own. This isn’t exactly a bad approach, but considering my issues with her as a character, it wasn’t the most exciting time. There’s also the fact that Emilia starts out with very little to go off which results in a lot of her poking around in a somewhat aimless fashion, just hoping a clue will land her in her lap (which it does). The other thing that dampened my enjoyment somewhat is I expected Emilia to team up with Wrath far earlier than she did and this delay was mostly out of stubbornness.

Following approximately the halfway mark, I began to enjoy myself a lot more! The investigation became more focused, Emilia and Wrath were pleasantly bouncing off one another, the interactions with the different demon princes representing the seven deadly sins was fun, and the bigger impending threat of the story was introduced. By the time I reached the climax, I was genuinely disappointed the book was about to be over. While I wasn’t a fan of certain elements of the ending, I’m really looking forward to the exciting change of scenery it creates for the sequel.


As far as a final verdict goes, there were things I liked about this one and others that missed the mark. Still, it’ll likely appeal to a lot of other readers, especially if you enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. I will say though, I do feel like it’s set things up for a really good sequel and I’ll be eagerly picking that up later this year.

3 stars

Blood, Guts and Petticoats: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

2 stars

As I’m sure you guys are aware, I’ve been looking forward to reading this one for some time now. It had fantastic reviews and advertised a strong heroine, some mystery, and even a little romance. Basically, it seemed like the perfect choice for me.

Colour me majorly disappointed.

I hate crapping on the work of published authors, mostly because by finishing and publishing a work they’ve accomplished something amazing and far beyond anything I’ve ever managed, but that’s the way reviews work. Let’s get stuck in, shall we?

Characters

One of the strongest components of Maniscalco’s novel is her two main characters. In Audrey Rose Wadsworth, she’s attempted to create a strong, independent and modern woman with the drive and intelligence to solve the Ripper case. To a large degree, she succeeds. Audrey Rose doesn’t really give a damn about standing out – she’s more than willing to walk around in full black attire, usually pants, and is set on making something of herself despite the restraints on women of the time.

And yet, her femininity hasn’t been sacrificed in the process. She recognises that just because a girl loves pretty dresses and make up, doesn’t mean she can’t also be a badass, which was something I loved about her!

Roses have both petals and thorns, my dark flower. You needn’t believe something weak because it appears delicate. Show the world your bravery. 

While I enjoyed Audrey Rose’s confidence and snark, her constantly changing emotions tended to give me a bit of whiplash. For example: “I like Thomas”, “no, I hate Thomas” or “I must treat this girl as just a body to be examined” to “I must hunt down her murderer and get justice for her family!”. Moreover, her stubbornness and single-mindedness in regards to the investigation itself wasn’t exactly something I found endearing by the end of the story. Additionally, despite her being a strong female character, Audrey Rose never truly felt like someone who actually belonged in this particular era. I wouldn’t go as far as to say she was a 21st-century girl in a Victorian world, but definitely not just a slightly more progressive Victorian girl in a Victorian world.

I liked Audrey’s growing relationship with Thomas Creswell, the Holmes to her Watson. The characters have a good rapport and the dialogue between them is often amusing. This is in large part due to Thomas’s sense of bravado, complete love of himself and constant attempts at flirting. Much like Holmes, Creswell loves showing off his “vast intellect” with a constant stream of deductions about various things. These are mildly impressive at first but after a while tend to border on smug and annoying. The character does have a degree of depth and mystery to him but part of me feels like it was never fully fleshed out enough and perhaps it’s being saved for the sequel.

Writing

From a writing perspective, I like the fact that Ms Maniscalco didn’t shy away from the gore involved in autopsy work and the murder’s treatment of the victims. It brought a degree of realism to her characters’ work as well as the stakes of the case (although I’m sure there may be some people out there who might be a little uncomfortable casually reading about slicing up organs of a morning).

My biggest problem with the writing was its sense of pace. I was a little concerned that this would be the case when I first got a proper look at the physical size of the novel. While things of little relevance drag on, other sections, particularly the opening chapters, which deserved extra time to build tension and develop the characters were left feeling choppy and rushed. Maniscalco does have a few quite well-written bits of phrasing spread throughout the book but I wouldn’t consider her style to contain anything particularly memorable or distinctive. Although, this isn’t a bad thing as it’s not like every writer in the YA world is a Laini Taylor. Her dialogue is fairly witty, her descriptions reasonable, and scenes very easy to follow.

Plot

The plot of the novel is straightforward – two forensic scientists studying the evidence in the remains left behind by a serial killer and doing a little extra detective work of their own.  For the most part, the story is reasonably likeable. It’s nothing too complicated or original, but about what you’d expect in a YA take on crime. However, my main problems with the book exist in the last third or so in which my frustration levels began to hit critical mass. Trying to avoid spoilers, towards the end of the novel Audrey Rose becomes convinced that a certain individual is the culprit behind the Ripper murders. They’re a decent suspect choice, I’ll give her that, however, once she sets her sights on this person she basically refuses to consider any other possible options whatsoever and then continues to fret about that state of affairs for the rest of the book. The problem with this is that there’s another RIDICULOUSLY obvious suspect and shocker, it turns out to be them in the end. By the time you reach the climax and the culprit is revealed, it’s kind of case of,  oh really? This is such a big reveal!

Once the murderer has come to you, (and it will, trust me), all you can do is roll your eyes every time Wadsworth and Cresswell discuss the red herring suspect over, and over, and over again. It actually gets to the point where you want to scream at them – LOOK OVER THERE!

The climax of the book itself was also a bit of a let-down for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was fine with the identity of the murderer as well as their motivations. Usually, as long as things make sense I’m cool with it, even if there’s no real surprise factor. What didn’t make sense was how the scene played out – the reactions, the dialogue, the result, none of it really felt like it rang true or provided any real sense of satisfaction. Honestly, this person has killed five people, FIVE freaking people and you’re all like, if you say you’re sorry and promise never to do it again we can all just move past this.

Like are you freaking kidding me?

Severed breasts, removed organs, torn off skin, slashed throats, a Frankenstein complex, and you still think this person can be SAVED? What are you smoking??

Another of the things that niggled me was the fact that Thomas is identified throughout the book as someone who can work out the oddest of things from the tiniest clues. And yet, when it actually matters, and having been given all the evidence in the world, he’s suddenly unable to work out exactly who the culprit is until basically everything has already been resolved. He’s standing there explaining how he worked it all out and I’m like: that’s great and all but where were you ten minutes ago when we actually needed you, you dolt?

Overall, coming up with a final score for this book was quite difficult, especially with my own rating system in mind. Stalking Jack the Ripper has its merits and is definitely not a book I’d outright claim is bad. However, it’s not a book that I’m likely to recommend to many people nor do I see myself reading the sequel. With that in mind, it’s probably a little harsh, but 2 stars it is. Sue me.

2 Stars

Have you read Stalking Jack the Ripper? What did you think?