The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

By Josie Wold

The story begins in Salzburg, Austria, in 1759, as two musical-genius siblings are discovering their talents. Maria Anna “Nannerl'' Mozart and her little brother, Wolfgang Amadeus “Woferl,” inspire and support each other in their love of composing and playing music. However, life is not easy for them. With a domineering and critical father and a society where it is not acceptable for women to compose and play music, Nannerl must hide her work and passion.

As Nannerl realizes her inevitable obscurity, a beautiful wintery princeling fairy creature comes into her life and entices her and Woferl into a magical land where trees grow upside down and enchanted flowers grow in mysterious grottoes. She is promised fulfilment of her wish to never be forgotten in exchange for helping this fairy prince. Her reality--long carriage rides all over Europe performing for royalty, extended periods of serious illnesses, and the need to compose in secret while seeing her young brother get credit for her work--make Nannerl susceptible to the princeling’s persuasion.

The smooth flow from the real world into the fantasy realm takes the reader steadily into more serious situations as the prodigies move through their childhood. Quite different from Marie Lu’s popular science fiction/adventure series (Legend, Young Elites, Warcross), The Kingdom of Back grew out of a passion that began before she became a well-known author. The blending of historical fiction and fantasy genres, along with the insightful portrayal of the complexity of sibling relationships, make this well-written book worth reading on many levels.