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Kingdom of the Wicked Book One: Rules Kindle Edition
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- ASIN : B075HHNX1Y
- Publisher : Ligature (1 October 2017)
- Language : English
- File size : 7316 KB
- Simultaneous device usage : Unlimited
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 488 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: 274,523 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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While the book is ostensibly a courtroom drama, and has an alt-history setting that by itself is of interest, and plausible to the extent that it could well have happened, the theme that most intrigued me was the intersection between libertarianism and anti-Semitism.
I won’t say much about the anti-Semitic side except to point out that the Jewish characters are in the main portrayed as backward, confused, venal, corrupt or compromised.
The occupying force, on the other hand, are caricatured as noble, disciplined, reasonable and altruistic, and when straying from the above garner outcomes that in an ethically challenging way justify the means.
If it is Ms Dale’s intent, which I think it is, to portray libertarianism as a better alternative in our troubled world, then this book does not make a convincing case for its adoption. The narrow definition of libertarian freedom as proposed by the author is an ideology, and like theocracy, relies on a simplification of the human condition to assert its plausibility.
Jesus’ teaching transformed western civilisation. This was not an historical accident in the sense that it could only happen under the prevailing circumstances. The reality is that his teaching decussated the human condition. The subsequent co-option and corruption of these teachings by the church, religions, empires, states and cultures does not derogate from their efficacy.
To this extent I still don’t think a convincing book on Jesus set in the contemporary world has been written.
The book was also criticised for being anti-semitic. In my opinion utter nonsense, instead it was a brilliant expose of how war has no winners, that those that partake in atrocities are all sinners and that what we like to see as black and white are just shades of grey in an utterly confusing world.
In “Kingdom of the Wicked” Dale may still be accused of anti-antisemitism by the Jewish dogmatics, but again she manages to navigate through the various shades of human failings and hypocrisy to great effect. A fascinating re-telling of the story of the well documented attack on the moneychangers in the Jerusalem Temple during the times of a historic character also known as Jesus. All four of the gospels tell the story of his participation in it, as do many historians. Dale uses it to recast the role of both Jesus and Judas in what is a very clever work of historical fiction and courtroom drama. The Romans are in charge, but not unlike Baz Luhrmann’s version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet modernity is brought forward to add texture and intrigue.
The Romans are cast as the debauched elite, they drive cars, watch TV and use sophisticated electronic surveillance and high tech instruments of torture. They also adhere to a sophisticated code of conduct and the letter of the law is mostly adhered to. As such the book is also an interesting reminder of how much the legal constructs of today is based on the jurisprudence originally instituted by the Romans.
The characters are many and varied, some times hard to keep track of, but well crafted in their nuances of conflicting loyalties and confused values. The depictions of the hyper-sexualised life may well be historically accurate, who knows, but at times both camp and overdone, and rarely titillating (if indeed that was the purpose).
But overall I found “Kingdom of the Wicked” a fascinating read, a very clever idea well executed. It is the first in a trilogy, I look forward to the next installment.
Dale presents a cavalcade of moral dilemma, political intrigue, sex and violence. What more could a reader ask for?
Top reviews from other countries
Dale's legionaries aren't just modern American soldiers with Latin ranks; they have a very different set of attitudes to many things, including sex (yes please), death (always met with defiance) and torture (complete the Army Form 23, then grab your tools). Rome's culture grew deep roots, and much of it survives even now, but Dale shows us what it might have grown into if it had access to our technology. It's fascinating watching these people, equal parts familiar and alien, grappling the same problems we're facing ourselves. This version of first-century Judea is eerily close to Iraq.
The plot switches fluidly between different viewpoints - Roman soldiers, Zealot terrorists and a cast of Roman politicians, lawyers and civilians. I'm now impatiently waiting for March, so I can find out what happens in the second half!
It reads like those very rare but brilliant writing prompts that might appear on a subreddit dedicated to Classicists who write fiction in their spare time. Now it has actually been done, and has had plenty of reviewers picking over the details of how this technologically advanced Rome would work. All of this is very entertaining for Classicists, especially since Rome has played such an important role in our notions of modern ‘Western civilisation’. While examining what might have triggered an industrial revolution in early Imperial Rome might be an entertaining diversion for many a Classicist, Dale’s story is much more about the problems that emerge when very different cultures clash, especially around the power dynamics of religion and the law.
She has taken as her inspiration the events leading up to the Crucifixion, although this is not as simple as a re-write of the original story. Only a few details from the Easter story remain untouched, and much of the focus of the overall story lies elsewhere. The first book dealt with the riot at the temple, winding up to a massive and very satisfying climax featuring the kind of terrorist activity that those of us living in Europe in the 2000s and 2010s would easily recognise. In the second, Dale turns to courtroom drama, proving that this can be just as gripping, and details Jesus’ (or, to be strictly accurate, Yeshua Ben Yusuf’s) trial for the events at the temple. The ending is a sharp twist on a parable that while it does not pack the physical punch of the conclusion to the first book, is satisfying in its own way for threading together many of Dale’s key themes.
One of the great advantages of fantasy, sci-fi, and their close cousin, alt-history, is its capacity to explore some of the most challenging issues faced by society in the moment. It is easier to deal with big themes when they are presented in a format at least one degree removed from current life. It is too easy, in a novel about gender politics set in this world, to groan and turn away. The trick of an expert is to examine critical issues while at the same time entertaining, rather than boring, the reader.
This is not necessarily a popular opinion. Literary authors are often criticised for attempting ‘genre’, not because they can’t do it, but because there is something inherently inferior about books read purely to be entertained. Yet there is power in stories that can do both, that educate or explore rather than simply preach. Fantasy and science fiction in particular have a long tradition of challenging readers with worlds that hold an often painful mirror up to our own. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness took on clashes between political opposites and gender politics, and in more recent years, Ann Leckie and Adrian Tchaikovsky have taken on similar problems in Ancillary Justice and Children of Time respectively. We must not forget the slew of ‘Brexit’ or ‘Trump’ novels, now practically their own sub-genre, from Hanna Jameson’s The Last to Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon.
The Classical world is also seeing a resurgence as a muse for authors seeking to explore society’s most pressing current issues. Madeline Miller has now given us two offerings which challenge current interpretations of gender, sexual orientation, and politics in The Song of Achilles and Circe. Pat Barker has even waded into the fray with her own take on the events surrounding the last days of Troy, The Silence of the Girls. Whether disguised as an empire fighting rebels in space or with dragons, Rome is everywhere, and constantly reinvented to tell the latest stories about who we are, where we came from, and where we might head to next.
Kingdom of the Wicked sits neatly in the middle of a Venn diagram of these trends. The use of Rome is overt, but its re-invention as an industrialised society is fresh and accurate enough to keep even the pickiest Classicist happy. Dale has let her imagination truly let rip, understanding that societies build technology from their mythology. The invention of the stryges will satisfy even the most dedicated dragon-obsessive.
Rome’s empire spread across a vast physical and cultural space, which presented unique problems everywhere it went. Romans were constantly confronted with confounding peoples of every type, from the animal-headed gods of Egypt to the warrior women of Germany. Jerusalem was no exception. The first book focuses its attention on occupied Judaea, where Romans had introduced liberal attitudes to abortion and sexuality to a society where they had been traditionally suppressed. The Romans of this world are just as sexually keen as evidence suggests they were in our own, and this puts them in direct conflict with Jewish values and traditions. For some Romans, and indeed, some Jews, it is obvious: the other side is wrong, and dangerously so. For others, for those caught with one foot in each camp, the issue is much more complex.
This is where Dale’s character development shines. Cynara, a Jewish woman who attended a Roman school and runs the Empire Hotel in Jerusalem. It is her viewpoint that sheds much light on what it means to live between two cultures. She is just one of several characters over whom Dale takes the time to offer us a full backstory, showing off the world-building as well as character-building in the same moment. It might prove off-putting to readers seeking the constant thrill of genre, but reading these early chapters pays off in later sections. As she sits on the fence, her father a Sanhedrin rabbi and her lover a Roman newscaster who might remind people of Stanley Tucci’s turn as Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games, Cynara is ideally placed to tell much of the story of the second book.
Cornelius Getorex, British by birth, is the man assigned to the task of prosecuting the case against first Iscariot and then Ben Yusuf himself. His relationship with Mirella reveals much of classical Roman life in the provinces, and if we were to imagine ourselves as Industrialised Romans, we might pick them as ideal choices. Roman life here is envisioned as work hard, party hard, but it is not until the second book that Dale really digs in to the detail. We might have been drawn in by the appeal of Roman festivals and free healthcare, but Severus Agrippa reveals the darker side: when Romans say ‘work hard’, they mean it, and those who cannot, for whatever reason, are left to fend for themselves. Romans admire the fit and the strong, and were not afraid to end the lives of those who were not or could not be either.
This is not by any means a utopia. Julia, the pilot of a stryx, illustrates not just the Roman attitude to using people to the Empire’s advantage, and the complicated way that this affected the individuals it chose. It must have been hard work for a culture that did not see women as capable of being a warrior class to overcome the news that women made by far the best pilots for the stryges. Julia’s attitude, that this was tough for her but also the best thing for her family, is a nuanced take on the usual attitude taken by those who must make the best of very difficult circumstances.
At the centre of all this is a commentary on the clashes between Western and non-Western cultures in the last twenty to thirty years. Kingdom of the Wicked is, fundamentally, a discussion of how cultures, in particular religions, have made it impossible to resolve the issues in the Middle East. The Roman Empire had largely dealt with societies it conquered by layering itself on top of an existing structure. In places like Egypt, Romans could overlap their own gods with the Egyptians’ own as the Greeks had previously done. Where societies practiced a monotheism that excluded the possibility of other gods, the work of conquering and controlling was that much harder.
Everything about Roman culture frustrates or even enrages the Jewish people they have conquered, illuminated by Linnaeus’s taxi driver, Caiaphas, and Joseph Arimathea. Hatred abounds on both sides; while most people attempt to get along as best they can, Cassius provides us with the standard Roman view of Jews as repressive, and in interludes that double as bait points, Saul provides a window on the lives of Zealots. These are a stand-in, perhaps, for the terrorist groups who eventually coalesced into ISIS.
Presenting a nuanced view of conquering and being conquered is hardly easy. Empires are traditionally bad in science fiction and fantasy (see, if it were not obvious, Star Wars), and we are meant to side with the rebels. Dale’s book sits much more in the territory of Monty Python’s eternal question, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Roman values of law, order, military prowess and freedom gained through hard work remain unchanged by industrialisation, but along with the advantages of water, order, structure, and peace comes an inability to understand features of a society that are much harder to quantify. People will, fundamentally, want to run their own lives and make their own choices, even if those lives and choices seem incomprehensible to others. The modern world has, in a sense, attempted to conquer the rest of the world as the Romans did. Armies have barely been necessary when societies offer certain types of freedom, technologies and attitudes that appeal especially to the young and disadvantaged.
Readers will find plenty of references to pertinent issues of the last ten years at least. Book one revolves around the question of whether torture is ever acceptable, given that it is unlikely to produce reliable information and that modern attitudes regard it as unacceptable to treat prisoners in such a way. The Romans, of course, have bound the practice in legal tape. The state legitimates corporal and capital punishment by the same means, but Dale’s point is more subtle. Torturing Iscariot produces the intelligence needed to save the day, but we are left to wonder at what cost; it was only possible after one soldier took matters into his own hands.
The emphasis of book two is the case against Yeshua, unfolding after the shock of a major terrorist attack from which the Romans are still reeling. This is another opportunity to examine how various cultures interact, not so much the religious clashes that exemplified the first book, but on an individual level. Roman men attempting to build relationships with Jewish women creates chaos, especially in rural areas. This is where every society is bound to struggle, since attitudes to women, women’s bodies and their freedoms often lies at the heart of such cultural clashes, whether in the Roman world or the current one. Dale takes the time to explore even the most extreme of attitudes, and readers cannot ignore the struggles Saul faces as a member of the Zealots. The best bait points are those that do more than maintain the tension for the reader; Saul’s experience is just as illuminating to the main themes as Cynara’s or Cyler’s.
Dale’s particular strength lies in her management of the story’s legal wrangling. The unfolding trial might seem like something of a comedown after the dramatic conclusion to the first book. It is a much more subtle tension, but no less gripping for that. In this version of the story, Yeshua is not tried by the mob, and Pilate at no point washes his hands of the whole affair. This is really an opportunity for Dale to showcase her understanding of Roman law, and return again to the religious conflicts between Romans and Jews and how they played out in everyday life rather than in John Clancy-style violence.
What of Yeshua Ben Yusuf himself? Just as the Classical world around him has been continually reinvented to suit the needs of every society and group inspired by it, so has Jesus himself. Portraying the man himself is a tough task, given that the information we have is so sparse, and comes from writers who lived hundreds of years after his death. If we consider the works that never made the Biblical editorial cut alongside those that did, we have a confusing picture of his underlying message. Dale’s Yeshua, the son of a young Roman soldier and a Jewish woman, was raised by a single mother with a step-father and brother with whom he hopped trains to preach to audiences all over the Galilee. He is suitably enigmatic, his politics and religious leanings at odds with both Romans and Jews alike. His own faith seems to confuse him, Dale’s two standout moments, aside from Yeshua’s interactions with the morally malleable Cyler Lucullus, being his interactions with Pilate at trial and with his own god in the Garden of Gethsemane. Dale suggests that there is a mystery to Yeshua that not even he can explain, but that if he has a gift, it is not entirely to be trusted and, ironically enough, is as capricious as a Roman deity.
Novels with big relevant themes can often fall flat, especially when the approach taken is particularly preachy. Kingdom of the Wicked is, however, subtle and deep enough that readers will enjoy the story, the world, and the characters as much as the more challenging issues it takes on. While at times conversations can feel a little obviously intended to make Dale’s points for her, they do not distract from the overall readability of the work. It will appeal to Classicists and laypersons alike, and one does not need to be an expert to enjoy the story, the world, and the characters within it. Readers can delve as deeply as they want, whether they want to pick up on every Biblical reference, discuss Roman law or modernisation, or just sit back and enjoy a well-written story. This is proof, if it were needed, that the world of two-thousand years ago remains as relevant as ever. The past, it appears, is not as foreign a country as we like to assume.
Dale has put an exceptional amount of time and effort into dragging modernity back into the first century AD crafting a realistic culture around it.
Not just a fun peice of fiction but a subtle critique on Abramatic societies in today's world.
Perhaps a little hard to understand for those not familiar with Roman culture Dale nonetheless is able to describe her world throughout the story without resorting to simply explaining to the reader.
The Authors note at the end fames the circumstances such a world could have arisen brilliantly and reminds us that of all sad words of mouth or pen, the saddest are these. It might have been.