Some kingdom cons just want to run
While some conspire against you
Cause you gave them more than cash
You gave them your ambition too.
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman, reads like a fable that vividly transports you to the “Court” of a Mexican drug lord, and explores the themes of loyalty, love, betrayal, and the relationship between art and power.
Our guide of the Kingdom is a young musician named Lobo, referred to as the Artist, who is tasked with using his talent to praise and immortalise the deeds the courtiers, and, first and foremost, the King. With his narrative ballads (corridos), the Artist is essentially contributing to the mythology of the Kingdom. Interestingly, all the characters in the Court are known not by their names, but only by their titles: the Witch, the Commoner, the Traitor, the Doctor, etc.
To no courtier did he deny his talents, but the Artist recounted the feats of each man without forgetting who made it all possible. Sure, you’re down, because the King allows it. Sure, you’re brave, because the King inspires you.
The Artist is very much aware that everyone and everything in the Court, including his artistic freedom, is dependent on the whims of the King. While the Artist’s corridos have the power of boosting (as well as diminishing) the reputation of the King, he quickly realises that he and his fellow courtiers are in a very precarious situation, and the day-to-day life in the Court is full of casual violence. Lobo is very grateful to the King for saving him from poverty and giving him the role of the Court bard, but, as the story progresses and he becomes a witness to the various machinations within the Court, he gradually starts to understand the reality of the situation.
It’s as if there is no right to beauty, he thought, and thought that the city ought to be set alight from its foundations, because in each and every place where life sprouted up through the cracks, it was immediately abused.
Ultimately, Kingdom Cons is a concise and poetic examination of how people get become indirectly complicit in violence, and deliberately avert their eyes from some of aspects of the kingdom that they have chosen to be part of. I look forward to reading more by this author, especially his most well-known novel Signs Preceding the End of the World.