[Book Review] To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

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. I count each of them, so I can be sure none were stolen in the night. It’s not such an odd fear to have. Hearts are power, and if there’s one thing my kind craves more than the ocean, it’s power.

If this book were a portal to the world it’s set in then I would immediately dive straight into it right now!

I’ve always been a major fan of any stories set by seas and oceans or involving pirates, mermaids and the like. I’ve read stories of sirens in mythology but nothing contemporary has ever hit the mark…that is until To Kill A Kingdom came along.
I knew I had to read it straightaway and couldn’t resist the lure of it when it came up as part of the Readers First draw. Readers First is a website that releases first looks on upcoming releases from a wide range of genres. If you write a first impression of the first look then you get entered into a prize draw to win a copy of the book pre-publication in exchange for a review. This was my first time actually entering for anything and I jumped for joy when I had the email telling me that I had won a copy and it was already on its way in the mail to me.

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? [Synopsis from Goodreads]IMG_7774

Admittedly, from the blurb alone, my expectations were incredibly high and thankfully Alexandra Christo pulled it out of the bag with this brilliant debut. It’s clear from the first few pages that storytelling is a massive strength within this novel. Christo has such a lyrical way of writing that the story is almost like a siren song transcending off the pages straight into your mind.

Under the sea, it’s never so serene. There’s always screaming and crashing and tearing. There’s always the ocean, constantly moving and evolving into something new. Never still and never the same.

From the outset, the world building in this book is far from watery (pun intended)!  The rich vocabulary and exquisite descriptions immerse you headfirst into the world Christo has created. Seriously, I would happily hop on the first pirate ship I see on a quest to find the Diávolos Sea. I love descriptive books which is why I think this appealed to me so much but if you’re not into all of that then there’s plenty of swashbuckling action and entertaining banter to counteract it.

And the ocean, calling out to us both. A song of freedom and longing.

The story is written in alternating chapters following Lira – a siren princess known as the Princes’ Bane due to her passion for targeting and murdering princes, and Elian – a Midasan prince known as the siren-killer because of his commitment to sailing the seas and ridding humanity of the threat of siren monsters. When Lira’s callous and cruel mother, the Sea Queen, sends Lira on a quest to kill Elian the paths of the two main characters merges and takes them on an adventure which neither one was truly expecting.

Could it really be such a bad thing, to become a story whispered to children in the dead of night?

Raised by brutality, Lira is one true bad-ass. She’s witty, determined and filled with sass to the brim. A fantastic protagonist who conveys her story and her conflicting feelings effortlessly. I really liked the fact that she dared to be different to the other sirens, even if it meant going against someone as powerful as her mother. As for the prince…well, give me Elian over Eric any day! The balance between both him and Lira made for a brilliantly believable pairing despite their initial differences.

Although To Kill A Kingdom comes across as a retelling, it really is an original tale in its own right. I enjoyed the influences of Greek myths as well as spotting the various nods to both the traditional and Disney versions of the The Little Mermaid – the Sea Queen throws some serious shade on Disney’s Ursula; Lira’s transition from siren to human echoes both Ariel’s and the Anderson mermaid’s fates; and of course the subtle romance between prince and princess reiterates themes from both versions of the tale.

The storyline itself, deviates drastically from the well-known fairy tales. Christo has created an interesting narrative which weaves myth, fairy tale and fantasy together. The characters embark on a fairly simple retrieval quest which then branches out into variously wicked twists and turns to keep you on your toes, finally culminating in an epic battle of mankind and monsters to determine the fate of their world. I enjoyed the way that the action was interspersed with different settings and dialogues between the characters. Refreshingly, as a standalone fantasy novel, the plot is neatly wrapped up at the end of the story but there’s the snag…I wanted more! At times during reading I found myself doubting that this was actually a standalone. I couldn’t quite believe that the whole story could be wrapped up as I crept closer and closer to the end of the book. Whilst I wasn’t left with any burning questions which felt as though they hadn’t been answered, I do feel that the ending came about rather quickly compared to the level of build-up that there was to get there. I really hope Christo revisits this world that she has created, not necessarily to continue the stories of Elian and Lira, but just to see more of it come to life on the page.

If you’re looking for a stunningly enchanting standalone to absolutely lose yourself in, then this is the book for you. To Kill a Kingdom had everything I wanted in a YA fantasy novel – adventure, mysticism, humour, magic, a touch of romance and a kingdom that I actually wished was a real place. This novel will definitely stick in my mind for a long time to come and I can’t wait to see what Christo writes next.

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Published: 6th March 2018
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9781471407390
Rating: 5/5 Princes’ Hearts

Pinnacle – Book Review

•   Published 6th February 2018 by Astraea Press (Paperback)

•   298 pages

•   ISBN-13:978-1621357339

•   Rated: 4/5 Magical Attributes

“Identifying her parents was the hardest thing ever, until Kaya learned she was the killer’s next target. Moving had thrown the ancient predator off her trail temporarily but with magical abilities manifesting, Kaya’s scent grows stronger and the attempts on her life become constant. Narrowly surviving each encounter, Kaya is desperate to stop her potential assassin, but it’s hard to kill a creature that changes its appearance and disappears without a trace. Kaya finds the support she needs to succeed in her small group of friends and her boyfriend Kenneth. Like so many things, they’re more than what they seem and with the killer having unsettling similarities to Kenneth and his family…Kaya can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection.”

Pinnacle is a brilliant debut from Lynn Veevers and really brings Lycanthropy into the spotlight. The novel has a wide-ranging cast of characters and gives the reader an in-depth look at the powers and heritage of the people within Kaya’s world. There is a lot of character-building which really immerses you into the plot.

At the beginning, I felt like there was a fair bit of info-dumping explaining all of the attributes and qualities of both the Natural and Afflicted Lycans and the Natural Mystics to bring the reader up to speed and into the story. As the descriptions were often quite lengthy and took place during conversations with numerous characters (some of which had been freshly introduced), I found myself having to pay close attention to what was happening to get my head around it all. With a little bit of perseverance, I came to understand more about the complexities of the various character traits. Afflicted Lycans = bad, they’re basically like the Terminators of the Lycan world; Natural Lycans are the good guys and have more than one form and Natural Mystics are like humans but with a specific skill or attribute.

Now Kaya is like the ultimate of the Natural Mystics and the plot revolves around her being the destined Pinnacle. Because of her heritage she has quite a range of different abilities which make her different from other Natural Mystics. She shows a lot of determination and adapts to her powers really well and quite speedily, especially when a new one will pop up out of the blue and show itself suddenly. At times, her relationship with Kenneth was a little cheesy for my personal taste, but I was pleased that the tone of the novel didn’t come across as an angsty teenage romance.

Although there were a lot of characters, you quickly felt like you got to know them as a fair amount of the text was centered around their interactions and conversations with each other. I don’t tend to read many books with werewolf or lycan themes but the likeability of the characters that Veevers created drew me into following their story through until the end.

My highlight of the book is where they journey to a cave in an attempt to track down and discover Senka, the main villain. This part of the novel was able to merge the world-building of the setting whilst also giving the characters a chance to demonstrate their skills in a battle-type situation. It gave the story a little more action and pace. I also felt that this was the part of the story where all of the main components came together and gave the story its link into the second novel Eximius.

Overall I really enjoyed Pinnacle, it was thrilling to read a book which had little complexities layered throughout its narrative. It really made me pay attention to the storyline and what was happening. For a debut, this is an ambitious and valiant attempt into the foray of paranormal YA fiction. I would definitely recommend this to older, more mature readers due to the exploration of relationships involved and some scenes which include violence and a character death. If you liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight and The Mortal Instruments for their werewolf elements and prefer books which focus heavily on character development and interactions then you would probably enjoy reading Pinnacle.

I would like to thank Lynn for giving me the opportunity to read Pinnacle before its release date and cannot wait to see what happens next in the forthcoming sequel Eximius.