When my copy of Kingdom of the Cursed arrived, I was determined to put aside my bubbling over excitement and savour each page. After all, the first read of a book – let alone one from an author you love – is a treasured experience that you can never get back. But I should have remembered that reading Kerri Maniscalco’s books slowly – particularly any that involve Emilia di Carlo and Wrath – is an impossible task. Whilst my heart might align with House Wrath in every way, my head was in full-on House Gluttony mode after just one chapter. I wanted more and more and more – and before I knew it, I’d devoured the whole book in just over a day. So much for the slow read…
Fans of Kingdom of the Wicked will know that the first book ended with the cliffhanger of Emilia signing her freedom away to Hell and agreeing to become Pride’s wife. It was all in the name of love – not for any Prince of Darkness, but the love she had for her sister, Vittoria, who was brutally murdered at the start of the series. Emilia was determined to see her mission through and find out who killed her twin, even if it meant damning her soul in the process. KOTC begins with the consequences of Emilia’s deal playing out as Wrath escorts her through the gates of Hell, where our Shadow Witch soon discovers that the image she had envisaged of the Seven Circles of temptation, torture and eternal terror might have been a little off-base.
That’s not to say that walking into Hell and surviving to tell the tale is a picnic; Emilia still needs Wrath’s help if she’s going to fulfil her vow and avenge Vittoria. Faced with luxurious palaces, backstabbing demons, shadowy motives and conflicting clues about what really happened to her sister, not to mention a septet of sinful Princes who take pleasure in all things scheming and murderous, and Emilia finds herself on a mission that threatens to not only claim her soul, but her heart, sanity and humanity too. And let’s not forgot those complicated feelings she has for Wrath, who might act like the most devious of them all, but – like Hell itself – is much more than he seems.
“Holding his intense stare, I nodded back, thankful for his treachery. It was the last time I’d fall for his lies. With any luck, though, it would be the start of him and his wicked brothers falling for mine. I’d need to play my role well, or I’d end up dead like the other witch brides.”
The first thing readers will realise about this darkly beautiful and atmospheric sequel is that it’s a marked departure in tone from the first book. Whilst KOTW fit perfectly into the YA demographic, with hints of romance and teases of lust, KOTC is firmly in the New Adult category, with a much more explicit nature from the off. Worth noting for readers on the younger end of the YA spectrum but for those of us adult readers, it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that Kerri Maniscalco has added so much spice to this book. In fact, KOTC is the paper and words embodiment of the fire emoji. Emilia and Wrath spend most of the book in a perpetual battle between their raging, vengeful hearts and the lust they feel when they look at each other, and it makes for the most sizzling, intoxicating scenes.
The evolving will-they-wont-they, enemies-to-lovers relationship between the two characters takes up a huge portion of the book, but – as with KOTW – there’s more to the story than a witch falling for a Prince of Hell and vice versa. KOTW began with a broken hearted, grief stricken girl seeking retribution for her sister’s murder, and that’s still very much the heart of this book. There’s a constant sense that Emilia is missing something important – that she doesn’t have all the puzzle pieces she needs to solve her deeply personal mission, and that one of the seven rulers of Hell – or perhaps all seven – might be purposely hiding the most vital clue from her.
Maniscalco has so many secrets up her sleeve involving both the death of Vittoria and Wrath’s true motives, as well as the intentions and machinations of his six immoral brothers. Each reveal is more deceitful and devastating than the last – and Emilia feels like an entirely different character by the end of the book. This character development – for Emilia and Wrath – is what keeps readers hooked. You just never know who’s going to betray who, and how deeply that newest betrayal will cut.
In KOTW, Emilia was young, naive and inexperienced, but KOTC allows her to step out of the helpless grieving sister role and become a young woman – and a witch – to be reckoned with. She was always a little out of her depth but this book gives her a newfound confidence and fierceness. She’s more cunning than anyone gives her credit for and it makes her an unpredictable opponent. Seeing how the character grows even more – for better or worse – as the series progresses is definitely something to look forward to. And as for Wrath, Emilia’s sinful drug of choice, he continues to surprise, frighten and delight in all the best and most wicked ways.
Sexy, smouldering and fuelled with a passionate rage befitting Wrath himself, Kingdom of the Cursed does something that not all sequels can do: it outshines the book that came before. We’ll likely have to wait until at least this time next year before we’re reunited with the characters and their devilish world, but I’d sell my soul to a Prince of Hell in a heartbeat to get my hands on the next book now.
Kingdom of the Cursed is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 5 October 2021