I am a big fan of retellings of fairy tales, but don’t expect a straightforward version of The Little Mermaid. Rather than getting a prince to fall in love with her to stay human, this siren has to kill a prince to become a siren again – and that prince wants to kill her too.
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 unsavoury 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?
Lira is the next in what is becoming a long line of fantastically flawed heroines in YA. She begins the novel as a monster, the killer of seventeen princes: the Princes’ Bane. Yet Christo still manages to provoke sympathy for her, through revealing the shocking events of her past. Nature versus nurture is an important conflict. Lira thinks she knows who she is – or desperately tries to make us believe she does – at first, but it was only when she began to question everything that I took to her.
The other protagonist is Elian – human, Crown Prince and siren-hunter. To compare with Disney princes (because it’s the best analogy I could think of), he’s more like Flynn from Tangled than Eric from The Little Mermaid – charming, but not one-dimensional. He doesn’t really want to be King, but knows this is his ultimate responsibility – he’d just like to catch the Princes’ Bane first. Despite his reluctance to take on the throne, he’s shown to be a shrewd politician – he manipulates various characters into helping him, and while he delivers on his side of the deal, it’s maybe not quite in the ways they expect.
My only criticism is that, in the opening chapters, the two main characters do a lot of telling rather than showing, and describing themselves in first-person present felt a bit forced. This made it feel quite slow to start.
However, once the scene was set and the two characters had met, I raced through the rest. Considering she’s a siren who seduces men to rip out their hearts, her interactions with Elian remain quite clean teen, but this is probably a deliberate contrast. The communication between them is still quick and witty and fun to read.
I really enjoyed the plot, with both characters looking for the same thing but for very different reasons. It was also refreshing to come across a standalone novel in this genre. While there is room for the author to return to these characters if she’d like to, it was a satisfying ending, and I love that she didn’t drag out the story across three books unnecessarily.
Overall, I think To Kill a Kingdom is a strong debut, and anyone who reads a lot of YA fantasy should give it a try.
Thank you to NetGalley and Hot Key Books!