Kingdom of the Wicked, the gorgeously dark new YA fantasy from Kerri Maniscalco, transports readers to 1800’s Italy, as we follow Emilia, a witch on a quest to hunt down her twin sisters murderer and take her revenge. Filled from start to finish with demons, murder, magic and so much delicious food, Kingdom of the Wicked is a page-tuner through and through and we’re so excited to have had the opportunity to chat to Kerri all about it.
How would you entice readers to pick up a copy of Kingdom of the Wicked using just three words?
Oh my gosh, I’d probably say “Sinful demon prince,” or “Darkly delicious mystery.” (Emphasis on delicious because of the food.)
What was the inspiration behind Kingdom of the Wicked and how and when did it come to you?
I write down snippets of ideas in one of my many journals; sometimes it’s a trope I like and want to explore, sometimes it’s dialogue or setting or a random scene. I let the ideas and characters sit until they coalesce into the beginnings of a story. I started drafting a very early version of this back in 2015 and managed about 40,000 words before Stalking Jack the Ripper sold. I ended up only keeping certain elements—the Italian setting, enemies to lovers, supernatural creatures at war, a curse, and the murder mystery.
Emilia, Kingdom of the Wicked’s protagonist, is such an interesting and complex character. She must have been a lot of fun to write?
Thank you! She was definitely a lot of fun to write! I love how she starts off very skeptical about the legends and lore her grandmother tells her, and how her views slowly start to shift. It was also interesting to follow her through grief—how her anger is used to keep her own demons away, and, of course, having Wrath around only intensifies those feelings of fury.
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Your books are always brilliantly dark. What is it about writing about darker topics, such as murder and dark magic, you find so enticing?
More so than the darkness, I’m intrigued by the idea of hope and light. In order to showcase those feelings, I think the contrast of dark subjects works best. I also root for characters who face trials in life and still manage to cling to hope and love. Characters who find silver linings—no matter how dark their journey gets—inspire me.
Kingdom of the Wicked is set in late 1800s Italy. Did you do a lot of research into Italy during that time period whilst writing and, if so, what was the most interesting or strange fact you came across?
Everything from character names to buildings to food to religion and politics is heavily researched and then filtered in throughout the drafting process, but I was especially intrigued by the Capuchin Monastery. The whole mummification process—with the bodies being stuffed with bay leaves and straw—fascinated me. Also how the limestone aided the natural mummification process; I find those scientific aspects especially fun.
Out of all of the characters you’ve created throughout your writing career, which do you relate to the most and why?
I think I can relate to all of them in some small way or other. Emilia is the most like me as far as reading and cooking and family. (My family is Sicilian.) Food plays a large role in my life and has from the time I was little, so those scenes with Emilia and her family in the kitchen were very relatable to me. Audrey and Thomas love forensics like I do—and my grandmother shared a love of mysteries that play into each of my books.
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How do you think Emilia and Audrey, the heroine of your Stalking Jack the Ripper series, would get along?
They’re both passionate about their pursuits and they both long for justice, so I can see them finding common ground and having lots to talk about. It’s not hard to imagine Audrey Rose stopping in at Sea & Vine to eat, laugh, and drink with her new friend. Wrath and Thomas Cresswell might be extremely fun to put in the same room, too.
The ending of Kingdom of the Wicked is absolutely going to leave readers wanting more! Can you tell us anything about what we can expect from book two?
I am the worst and love it! I actually wrote the ending before I started drafting anything else. I can say this about Kingdom 2… it’s very sinful and very steamy.
Finally, do you have a favourite, non spoilery Kingdom of the Wicked quote you can share with us?
I do! This is one of my favorite snippets between Wrath and Emilia.
“His expression held little humor as he took my measure. It was a slow, deliberate sweep of my body, my stance, the way I aimed his own dagger at his heart. If he looked at the bleached bones that surrounded us, he didn’t give them more than a cursory glance. When he dragged his attention back to my face, something dark lurked in his gaze, forged deep in the pits of Hell.”