To Read or Not to Read: To Kill A Kingdom

To Kill A Kingdom Original photo by Alice Li

I’m not sure if you’ve seen this book floating around anywhere, but I first heard of Alexandra Christo’s debut novel, To Kill A Kingdom, on my TikTok FYP. 

It was described as a fantasy book meant for 9th-grade readers and up that was essentially a retelling of the classic fairytale, The Little Mermaid

I didn’t know if I wanted to read this, because I knew it was going to be cheesy if it was meant for thirteen-year-olds. But The Little Mermaid is probably one of my favorite (if not favorite) fairytales ever, so I bought the book; and oh my god. When I tell you I consumed this book in a literal three days, I’m not kidding.

To Kill A Kingdom is about Princess Lira, a siren who is the daughter of the Sea Queen, and one of the most powerful sirens in her kingdom. Every year on a siren’s birthday, she targets a sailor of a land kingdom, uses her siren song to lure him into the water, then tears his heart out and adds it to her collection. Lira is no different, except she targets princes (because of course she does). 

One day, Lira and her cousin, Kahlia, go hunting on Kahlia’s birthday and Lira prematurely takes the heart of a prince (two weeks before her eighteenth birthday). As punishment, her mother crushes the heart and forces her to eventually take the heart of a sailor for her birthday. This is seen as a great humiliation, since Lira has only ever taken princes' hearts, and is nicknamed, “The Prince’s Bane.”

To try and redeem herself, Lira decides to kill Prince Elian, also known as “The Siren Killer”, and presents his heart to her mother. She thinks if she can kill their greatest enemy, all will be forgiven. But things go astray, and Lira winds up killing a mermaid who is also after Elian's heart. As a result, she inadvertently saves him from death. Upon finding out, her mother is furious and turns Lira into what they despise most: a human. 

Elian, a lover of the ocean and sailing, finds Lira floating in the water in the middle of the ocean. Not recognizing her, he takes her on board. She eventually joins his crew and they team up to find the Second Eye of Keto, which will kill the Sea Queen. Unbeknownst to Elian, Lira is planning on stealing the eye and killing him for good measure in order to seek her mother’s forgiveness. 

boat in front of a sunset Photo by Katherine McCormack from Unsplash

Obviously, there are some big changes between the original fairytale and this book. One of the changes that I thought was really interesting was taking Lira and making her a siren and the daughter of (essentially) Ursula. The idea of the stereotypical monster/villain actually being the hero is something that Hans Christian Andersen could never do. On top of that, the book also defines in the first few pages that the mermaids are actually the ones who are disgusting monsters. They eat the hearts of humans in hopes it will eventually turn them human, too. Quite a turnaround from the conventional “goddesses” they are usually portrayed as. 

The book switches Lira and Elian’s POV between chapters, so you never get bored or wonder what the other might be thinking. Especially in such an action-packed book such as this, something like that is essential. 

That being said though, there are certain plot points that are more meant for younger readers; meaning they’re cheesy and/or holding back. For one thing, I understand the intention of not including explicit romance scenes in a book for 13-year-olds. But on the other hand, in a book where the first few chapters introduce the idea of literally drowning and ripping a person’s heart out, I expected a bit more than what was given. Seriously, I remember The Fault in Our Stars having more steamy scenes than this one (and considering TFIOS didn’t have all that many, that’s saying something). 

Another issue is in some of the details. I mean, there are some things that are typical of the classic fantasy novel, such as monsters, adventures, fantastical names, etc. But the fact that the all-powerful Sea Queen could be taken down by just a simple jewel? Or that, eventually, it is her own daughter that defeats her? Can we say cliche much? 

Also, the fact that it is obviously a retelling of The Little Mermaid reminds me too much of the fairytale retelling books that were popular when I was in middle school years ago.  Body of water during a sunset Photo by Anders Jildén from Unsplash Would I recommend it? Yes, but take that with a grain of salt. 

No book is without its issues, and To Kill A Kingdom is no different. But, overall, I thought this book was really good. It does all the things that you want a good novel to do; it pulls you in from the very first page, the pacing of it doesn’t bore you, and you’re constantly on the edge of your seat. The characters are ones that you come to love, and soon, you find yourself hoping nothing bad happens to them (but newsflash, something always does).