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]
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
Rating: 5/5 Princes’ Hearts