Book: To Kill A Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-There are no conversations between named female characters that don’t revolve around men, Lira and her mother have a conversation that would have counted, but since her mother is not named, it does not.
To Kill A Kingdom was my March #RockMyTBR book, I picked it up last year at YALC, it was the one book that all three of us (me, Hannah and Hannah, yes they are two different Hannahs) picked up at YALC this year and both Hannahs had already read it and loved it, so it was my turn next. I was a little nervous going into it because I had quite high expectations, and I read a Little Mermaid retelling last year that disappointed me, so I didn’t want to be burned again. Thankfully I wasn’t, To Kill A Kingdom was dark and brutal, with amazingly complex anti-hero characters, so much witty banter and an enemies to lovers romance that was just amazing. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive.
There are seventeen hidden in the sand of my bedroom. Every so often, I claw through the shingle just to check they’re still there. Buried deep and bloody.
Princess Lira is siren royalty and revered across the sea until she is cursed into humanity by the ruthless Sea Queen. Now Lira must deliver the heart of the infamous siren killer or remain a human forever.
Prince Elian is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world and captain to a deadly crew of siren hunters. When he rescues a drowning woman from the ocean, she promises to help him destroy sirenkind for good. But he has no way of knowing whether he can trust her …
I feel like I have to start with the writing for this one, because it was just so stunning! It was beautifully descriptive and immersive whilst also reflecting the brutality of both Lira and Elian’s characters, and I was completely hooked on every word, even when the pacing of the story lagged, I was still invested because I loved the writing so much. The first line of this book is everything: “I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive”. It’s intriguing, hooks you instantly and really makes you want to read on. Descriptive writing can be a bit hit or miss for me as it can have a tendency to descend into purple prose, but Christo toed the line nicely, with just enough description to immerse me in the world, but not so much that it felt over the top.
I loved Lira so much, she was brilliantly brutal and fierce girls who are completely unapologetic about it are my jam! And yet she’s also grappling with her humanity and the fact that she’s been turned into this monster by her abusive mother, it’s not just that she’s evil by nature. She was just so brilliantly complex, she is fierce and brutal but she’s also grappling with the fact that her mother made her this way and that she feels compassion towards her cousin and that her mother sees any kind of compassion as weakness. It’s wonderful watching Lira develop over the course of the book and realise that humanity doesn’t have to be weakness, but also keeping the fierce, brutal, siren streak and using it to fiercely protect those she cares about. I definitely have a new favourite YA heroine in Lira. She was also so sassy, which as you all know is something I cannot resist.
Elian is also brilliant, I have to admit that I did prefer Lira, but I still loved Elian, he just took a little longer to grow on me. He actually reminds me quite a bit of Nikolai from the Grishaverse, he’s a pirate-prince who doesn’t want to be completely tied to his royal life. Elian and Lira are quite similar, both brutal, both fiercely determined and both very witty, plus they have families who are trying to push them to be something that they are not. Elian is by no means good though, he is cunning and brutal and will do what he needs to do to get the job done, and yet he’s also a prince who just longs for adventure. I love that Christo created two such incredible anti-heroes and allowed them to be the stars of the show without having to become solely good.
I found Elian’s longing for adventure and freedom so relatable, I’ve always wanted to get out and see the world, so I could definitely understand why he would want to do the same.
The chapters were are relatively short, which I liked, it kept the story ticking along nicely, although there were some that ran a little overlong. The pacing was generally good, but it did lag in places, mainly in the beginning before Lira and Elian meet and a little in the middle. It didn’t really matter too much though, I liked the writing & characters so much that I was invested even when not much was happening in the plot.
I loved the dynamic between Elian, Lira and the crew of the Saad, it was a wonderful found family dynamic with so much witty banter which I loved-Alexandra Christo certainly knows how to do brilliant dialogue which I always appreciate. It was also great that Lira and Madrid had a nice friendship as opposed to a girl-hate one.
The Sea Queen was horrible, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like she was kind of underdeveloped as a villain, she’s evil because that’s just the way she is, we don’t really get any backstory on her and how she came to be the way she was.
I liked that there were aspects of the Little Mermaid in there, but it largely felt like it’s own story, that’s what retellings should be, you should be able to see the inspiration but not feel like the author is just rehashing the original and I felt like Christo struck the perfect balance.
The world building was pretty good, I loved all of the siren mythology and how Christo established the differences between mermaids and sirens, and how she established all the different Kingdoms, we get a good sense of how the world works and the different places Lira and Elian come from. I would have liked a little more, but I’m a worldbuilding nerd, so take from that what you will.
The romance between Lira and Elian is brilliantly done, it’s so slow burn, they start of quipping at each other and hating each other and then whoops, oh no, now I’ll die for you because I love you so much. It’s honestly my favourite kind of relationship and the chemistry between these two is just FIRE. Their first kiss scene was just so good, Lira asks Elian to kiss her and if anyone ever tells you that consent is not sexy, please direct them to this particular scene in this particular book because they are WRONG.
There were some brilliant action sequences towards the end, although it was a little hard to keep track of what was going in places in those last few chapters because just SO MUCH WAS HAPPENING.
I found the end just the tiniest bit confusing, I think because the battle scenes go on for a few chapters and it’s just a bit jarring to go from the end of that to an epilogue of sorts, but as far as I could tell, everything wraps up well and it’s a satisfying end for Lira and Elian. I’m kind of sad there’s not going to be a sequel though, as brilliant as this was as a standalone, I just want to see Lira and Elian have more adventures!
This was a brilliant, brutally dark, banterous piratey romp and I absolutely loved it from beginning to end-360 pages was far too short!
My Rating: 5/5
My next review will be of Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming. I only just started it though, so it won’t be up for a while!
Wonderful review!! I read this one a while back and absolutely loved it. It’s one of the best YA retelling I’d read in a long while so I’m glad to see that you enjoy it. And I hope you enjoy Becoming. I hear so many great things about it!
Thank you! Yes it’s definitely one of the best YA retellings I’ve read, I think because it did something different with the original story, I feel like so many retellings play it too safe. I’m really enjoying it so far 🙂
I agree with you so much!! This review was so good. You hit all the points that were essential! The only thing I disagree slightly in is I felt like Lira and Elian had more of a sibling relationship than a romantic one. I was kind of disappointed it headed that way.
Thank you! Ah fair enough, I mean I personally liked the romance (which is not something I usually say) but I can definitely see bickering sibling dynamics in there too!