At first, when you're reading Kingdom Cons, you think you've gone back in time to a land full of kings and courts and ballads. Slowly but surely you realize: no, this is not the past, but the present world of cartels on the U.S.-Mexican border. The story centers on the Artist, a singer who performs corridos (Mexican folk ballads). The Artist is pulled into the inner circle of a cartel that's on the border.
As Tobias Carroll writes in The Culture Trip — and I'm just going to quote this whole passage "The Artist’s task is to compose corridos that honor the King’s deeds and leave outsiders and rivals aware of and intimidated by his power and strength. Viewed through one lens, he’s a court musician in a classic relationship between artist and patron. Viewed through another, he’s paying homage to the violent legacy of a drug lord. Art may not be as directly lethal as a knife or gun, yet in this regard, it contains the ability to make or mock a kingdom. With the right songs, or the right words, a drug lord can become an all-powerful King; with a different setlist, that King can become disempowered, or simply a body."
It's violent and otherworldly and wild. Sometimes I was confused by what was happening (it took me too long to catch on that it was the story of a cartel), but the writing really sucks you in—
Ever since arriving at the Court he’d been surprised by people’s urge to cross the line, or to go to some other city, even if it was on this side. Not even tales of artists living the gringo life had altered his own Why would I go? stance, when the Palace had it all: voices, colors, drama, stories. And it wasn’t that he’d changed his mind now, but that he admitted the possibility of there existing some point on the horizon that might be different from the two extremes he was bouncing back and forth between. What if … ?
At just over 100 pages, this is a quick and worthwhile read. Rating: ★★★★