Released in North America on March 6, 2018, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is an action-packed debut that will leave readers reeling – and in search of more swash-buckling pirates and deadly sirens to read about!
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?
I have not, in the past, been a fan of novels featuring pirates and/or sirens (my last notable attempts being The Siren by Kiera Cass), but after reading Song of the Current by Sarah Tolscer last year, I knew I wanted to give this one a try. And I am so glad that I did, because I absolutely adored this book, and cannot wait to get my hands on some more YA Fantasy featuring pirates and adventures at sea!
I absolutely loved the main characters in this one – and the fact that Christo wrote from both Lira and Elian’s perspective. Lira is the daughter of the Siren Queen, though in this tale she finds herself cast out for disobeying her mother, thrust among humans with a seemingly impossible task. Elian is a prince with a pirate’s heart, who spends his days avoiding his duties, instead sailing the high-seas in search of murderous sirens to kill – and a way to make the seas safe forever. Really, both are somewhat morally questionable at best – and realistically, Lira is a murderous anti-heroine siren bordering on straight-up villain, who spends much of the book grappling with dangerous decisions that imperil the lives of everyone around her, all while Elian plots to wipe out her kind. But, let’s be honest here, I absolutely adore morally grey characters, so these two were perfect in my eyes. These two unlikely companions are thrown together by their strange circumstances – each wanting to kill the other (however only Lira is aware of both of their true identities). Readers will really enjoy the developing relationship between them that grows through sarcasm-laced banter, harrowing ordeals, and general companionship.
I also really, really appreciated that there was no love at first sight nonsense in To Kill a Kingdom. The relationship between Lira and Elian was the perfect slow build, as Lira grappled with her hate of humanity and the princely siren-killer, and Elian with his distrust of the girl he pulled from the sea. But after being transformed into a human by her witch of a mother (seriously, her mother is awful) Lira somehow finds herself and a little to humanity as well, growing to love Elian, and perhaps even his crew, as she journeys with them; and Elian, as expected, warms to Lira despite her harshness and brutality.
In addition, for fans of YA Retelling, this novel definitely gives off some Little Mermaid vibes – but it is certainly no cozy tale of budding romance, swooning princesses and handsome princes. Instead, Christo delivers something much darker and grittier, with vicious sirens, a prince turned siren bounty hunter, complex and dangerous politics, all interwoven with themes of murder, betrayal and (potentially) genocide, if Elian got his way.
And the world-building – all I can say is wow. Christo introduces many richly described lands and people in this novel, all rich with possibility and practically begging for their own stories. Even the background stories of the characters Lira and Elian encounter, like Madrid and Sakura, contribute so heartily to the world, while also making the reader want to learn more.
Finally, my one complaint about To Kill a Kingdom is this – I found the initial chapters that introduce the reader to the world of sirens, mermaids, and the Sea, as well as the world above water with its various kingdoms, a bit dull at times, and I initially struggled to get into the book. Though, evidently, I am glad that I stuck it out!
Essentially, To Kill a Kingdom is a pretty dark fantasy retelling for YA, and it manages to tell a compelling, vicious story without falling into all the usual tropes, despite a lack luster opening. The characters are compelling, morally gray, and despite their best efforts, utterly human in a world which would see them become something even more monstrous, as it launches them into a game of secrets, betrayal, and dangerous politics. I don’t hesitate to say that readers will love this one (4/5)!