Alluring Like a Siren's Song
To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Feiwel & Friends - March 2018
A dark & violent retelling of The Little Mermaid, this debut novel will leave you satisfied
“Technically, I’m a murderer, but I like to think that’s one of my better qualities.”
― Alexandra Christo
Do you patrol you library's new purchases list? You know the one that says they bought the book but it's not on the shelves yet? I've recently made this a habit. Partly out of curiosity, mostly because I have #bookwormproblems. As soon as I saw this on my local library's "new" list I immediately put it on hold. I patiently wait for for them to process it, putting on all the plastic and stickers that are the bane of my existence.
After hearing that my bookstagram & booktube friend Steph over at @stephanieleannebookish enjoyed the book I knew I wanted to give it a try. I love the idea of fairy-tale and folklore retellings but, in practice, I'm usually dissatisfied with the end product. For example, I read Sarah Porter's Vassa in the Night but I was sadly disappoint with the retelling of 'Vasilisa the Beautiful'. However, despite my recent disappoint with retellings, I wanted to try this because I've always thought The Little Mermaid was vaguely terrifying. Like the sea witch is scary, just saying.
In Alexandra Christo's debut novel, Lira a siren princess has a collection of 17 hearts. A heart for each of her birthdays. Known as "the Princes' Bane", Lira is feared and revered as one of the deadliest sirens. She and her fellow sirens serve and obey Lira's mother, the Sea Queen, a tyrannical and vindictive ruler. In retribution for the inadvertent killing of a mermaid, the Sea Queen turns Lira into a human and commands that she obtain a prince's heart without the use of her siren song.
Eilan is a prince; however, the ocean is his true home among his siren-hunting pirate friends. Shirking his princely duties, Elian travels the world with a righteous mission to kill the deadly sirens that attack unsuspecting voyagers. When the opportunity to decimate the sirens and the Sea Queen appears before him - he seizes it. But, the appearance of a lone nearly-drowned girl throws a curve into his plan. Can he trust her? And how much is he willing to sacrifice to accomplish his mission.
“Hearts are power, and if there’s one thing my kind craves more than the ocean, it’s power.”
Alexandra Christo, To Kill a Kingdom
Christo sets up a detailed world, on land and under the sea. The sea kingdom rule by the Sea Queen is vicious and heartless. Lira is not a sweet little mermaid hung up on a handsome prince. Elian is a bit to cocky and murderous to be a prince charming. I loved the world-building in this book. I think it's definitely one of the better young adult fantasy books in that regard. I've been incredible frustrated with some of the recent YA fantasy books I've read because I've felt that the world-building is lacking. I appreciated the lore that Christo created rich detail and plausibility (as far as fantasy is concerned).
However, I was not too keen on some of the dialogue between characters. At times I thought Lira was ridiculously combative and aggressive when it didn't make sense for the context. Meanwhile, I felt like I kept getting hit over the head with the "Elian has swagger", "look how witty Elian is", or "isn't Elian the dreamiest, he has raven black hair - not just any black hair!" Supposedly, Lira and Elian have witty repartée; but, I did not think it was all that witty. I found myself rolling my eyes at a lot of the dialogue.
Additionally, there is another female character Yukiko. The name and cultural signifiers would suggest that the character is supposed to be Asian. Yuki is a Japanese female given name that can me "snow" while "ko" can child, depending on the kanji that's used. The character is interesting but definitely takes on the stereotype of "the Dragon Lady" that far to many Asian female characters are plagued with. A Dragon Lady is usually a stereotype of East Asian and occasionally South Asian and Southeast Asian women as strong, deceitful, domineering, or mysterious. Inspired by the characters played by actress Anna May Wong and other character depictions throughout much of 19th and 20th century literature and pop culture. I'd argue that Yukiko is 100% a "Dragon Lady" and it really annoyed me.
Despite the "Dragon Lady" stereotype and the, at times, awful dialogue. I truly enjoyed this novel. I thought the it had, "well-crafted fight scenes and vivid descriptions, Christo has created a world of beauty and monstrosity that will draw readers in." (Publisher's Weekly) And without spoiling the ending, I really appreciated how the novel ended and I was not expecting it, so that is always appreciated.
I would recommend this for fans of young adult fantasy, fairy-tale retellings, and darker YA books.