Published March 2018
*Review by Alexa (additional comments from Tiffany)*
Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.
The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?
When I was just a wee lass, my parents took me to see Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and I loved it. I mean I loooooooved it. It made such an impact on me that for the next several summers I tried—in vain—to swim just like those graceful mermaids. My friends and I would flop around the pool, singing our little hearts out, and pretend a handsome prince was coming to save us. Later, as an adult, I watched the film again and saw, with my grown-up-lady-eyes, how it is so very, very problematic. I mean, she just met the guy and she gives up her family for him? She gives up her voice and nearly her life? For some dude she doesn’t know at all?! Ugh, her poor father. Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore fairy tales (they’re my favorite genre), and I still love The Little Mermaid, but the whole damsel in distress/instalove thing is not my jam. I agree with Neil Gaiman: I like stories where the women save themselves.
I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive.
So, due to all of that Little Mermaid baggage, I was not going to read To Kill a Kingdom. A YA Little Mermaid retelling? Sounded a little too tropey for my taste; however, the hype monster bit and I decided to give it a shot…and I’m so glad that I did! I have rarely been so pleasantly surprised by a book as I was by To Kill a Kingdom. This book is fun, vicious, shadowy, smart, and even a bit seductive. The book is billed as a retelling, but it is in only the most vague sense of the word. It uses the best parts of the original fairy tale—and I mean original, not the Disney stuff—and gets rid of the rest.
I’m not a good man. I don’t think I’ve been one for a long time.
The story is told from two perspectives, human prince Elian and siren princess Lira, and it works well. The two perspectives are easy to follow, and it doesn’t feel like a trick to make the book more than it is, but rather it truly does add to the narrative to see the story through two sets of eyes. These MCs are so fun because, to put it bluntly, they are both pretty awful people when we first meet them. They aren’t likable and they don’t care that they’re not. Their character arcs are each well thought out and believable (mostly), and they are both fleshed out nicely. The overarching theme of their arcs—are we just victims of our circumstances? —is well thought out and I think resonates with most readers. I just really love a good anti-hero, and to have both MCs be that way was a real treat.
One of the best parts about this book is the lack of YA tropes. Love triangle? Nope. Instalove? Nope. Pouty heroine who is just a normal girl thrust into an abnormal situation? Nope. It is really rather refreshing. That’s not to say that there isn’t romance, it is a fairy tale after all, but it is a slow burn that smolders rather than combusts. The romance is fun, but my favorite relationships are the female friendships/kinships that either exist from the beginning or are formed along the way. They are protective, supportive, and encouraging in a way that you don’t always find in pop culture, YA or otherwise.
But now my memories are cruel dreams, twisting into merciless vision…The truth of what I am has become a nightmare.
The finest aspect of the book comes from Alexandra Christo’s prose and story telling. The book is, quite simply, beautifully written. Her turn of phrase is lyrical and melodic, and her descriptions of people, places, and things are so well done that I could feel the salt spray on my cheeks and the cold in my bones. Christo also manages to flesh out a fantastical world full of mythology and kingdoms in a relatively few amount of pages. This book has so much more to it than a simple retelling. In fact, I would put it in the category of high fantasy, and that is not something I expected at all.
Foul and hateful, alluring and repulsive. The melody of it leaves me with a fiendish kind of melancholy. It’s like she speaks in funeral songs.
Of course, no book is perfect, and there were a few plot holes and maybe a couple leaps in logic, but this book is so much fun that they are easily forgiven. The best way to describe this book is darkly and fantastically fun. There is everything you want in a fairy tale—heroes, villains, sword fights, pirate ships, magic objects, mythical creatures, romance—but done in a contemporary and dark way. I love that this is a stand alone, but by the end I found myself sad to leave the world that Christo has created. I do think that Lira’s story is done, or at least done enough, but I hope that Christo returns to this world for another tale.
Additional thoughts from Tiffany
I agree with most of what Alexa said, but I didn’t like this book nearly as much. I don’t know if it was a slump, an irritation, a complete brain-collapse on my part, but this took me THREE WEEKS to read. I just wasn’t interested. The dialogue between Lira and Elian felt forced and boring to me most of the time, and I wasn’t invested in these two main characters, their backgrounds, or their current situations. Their character arcs were similar, and I could see what Christo was going for, I was just…so utterly and completely bored with them!
I do think Christo is a wonderful writer and her world was beautifully built and described. I even think the overall plot was executed well. But these characters really dragged me down to the bottom of the ocean and left me suffocating for a good 60% of this book.