10:30 am EST, March 7, 2018

‘To Kill a Kingdom’ book review: The only ‘Little Mermaid’ retelling you’ll ever need

Alexandra Christo’s debut novel To Kill a Kingdom is so much more than a retelling of The Little Mermaid. It’s an epic story of swashbuckling pirates, fierce sirens, and the humanity that connects us all.

About ‘To Kill a Kingdom’ by Alexandra Christo

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?

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

‘To Kill a Kingdom’ book review

How do I love this novel? Let me count the ways.

First off, I’d like to put it out there that The Little Mermaid, in all its iterations but especially the Disney animated film, is my favorite story of all time. The sacrifice, pain, heartbreak, MERMAIDS, attractive sailor types… there’s nothing about these stories that I don’t love. (Ok, well nothing except the slightly tone-deaf gender politics in Disney’s version.) Everyone who knows me knows just how obsessed I am with this tale and with mermaids. I was practically primed to love To Kill a Kingdom.

And I did.

But you have to know something: This isn’t a spin-off of the Disney version. There are no animal friends and mermaids are actually thrown under the bus, er, *boat* as stupid and clumsy creatures almost immediately. This novel takes the story we all know and love and injects quite a bit of darkness and reality into it. No, really. I said “reality” when talking about a story of mermaids and sirens and Sea Queens.

While other iterations are generally sad or upbeat, the best word to describe To Kill a Kingdom is severe. From the descriptions of the sirens to the ways in which sirens and humans murder each other to the general world in which the novel takes place. There’s a constant sense of danger and urgency coursing through this novel, even in times of levity.

One of the largest threats in the book is that of the sea witch maintaining her reign of the sirens and eventually taking over the ocean. Her ferocity and viciousness has even her own subjects fearful of her. And yet, that threat doesn’t quite feel large enough in comparison to that of how humans and sirens feel about each other in general. While reading the novel, the fear and loathing the species have for each other is palpable and adds a lot of urgency to each moment. And yet, it’s not necessarily a plot point, per say. It’s just a feeling.

It’s very emotionally real, touching on the main characters’ shortcomings, fears, and sacrifices. It’s the way these characters act, not who they are or even what they say, that show us who they truly are and why they’re fit to be in places of power. Lira, the siren called “The Prince’s Bane,” begins the book as a prickly, practically-heartless and hate-filled automaton. But, in a lot of ways, her actions subtly speak otherwise.

And then there’s Prince Elian. Beautiful, handsome, swoon-worthy Prince Elian. He may seem light-hearted and devious on the outside, but he has a whole storm of thoughts and emotions brewing inside. (I’d also like to add as a side-note that Elian was everything I always imagined Prince Eric, my favorite prince of all time, to be outside of Disney’s shallow characterization of him.)

I love the way these characters grow and evolve, sometimes with the help of each other and sometimes on their own. Their struggles and their thought progressions feel very much real, whereas, at the hand of a different author, these aspects would be injected with cartoonish bravado or irrational reasoning.

And, speaking of love, I was at the edge of my seat for the slow-burning relationship in this novel and was 1000000% here for it. There’s no insta-love here. These characters don’t even realize they’re coming to respect each other (let alone fall for each other) until late in the novel. They’re each other’s perfect foils and really understand each other on a level that we all hope for when we fall in love. Honestly, my only real complaint is that there wasn’t enough romance for me because it develops so late in the book. Which is a good complaint to have because it was so well done as it is.

Also well-done is To Kill a Kingdom‘s climax. So many elements and breadcrumbs mentioned in the novel up to this point all lock in to place and have a part to play (including an especially emotional and heartstrings-tugging one). The action is non-stop and yet there’s so much room made available for important character moments. The best part is that, unlike the Disney version, Lira is as much a part of the action as Elian. She’s not sitting off to the side or stuck at the bottom of a maelstrom. I just want to read the climax over and over again and, you know what, I know that I definitely will.

But I have to say that my FAVORITE part of this novel is how it so subtly throws in elements of the classic Disney movie as it goes along. A fashion choice here, an iconic scene disguised as something else/distorted there… A lot of the fun and intrigue of reading To Kill a Kingdom is being able to spot these glorious little nods and easter eggs. For instance, about halfway through the novel, Lira gets an outfit reveal moment that’s very much a callback to its Disney counterpart. The best part is that they’re so well-done and integrated that they don’t feel like nods or inside jokes at all. They fit perfectly within the story the author is trying to tell and it’s glorious.

Basically, I LOVED To Kill a Kingdom. I’d read it again in an instant and will be telling everyone I know (especially the Disney fans) about it. *This* is the cinematic retelling I’d want to see on the silver screen in the next couple of years. Hollywood, you can cancel all of the rest of them. (Really.)

If you’re a fan of swashbuckling adventures, tales of enemies-turned-something else, or the tale of The Little Mermaid, you need to read this book.

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list!

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