I had to sit on this review for a few days to figure out how I really feel about the book…let’s see if I got my point across.
To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is a darker retelling of The Little Mermaid with sirens. Lira is a siren and the daughter of the Sea Queen. Elain is a prince, pirate, and siren killer. Their paths cross when, as punishment for killing one of her own, Lira is turned into a human by her vicious mother. After that, she’s given until the solstice to collect a lost artifact, the same one Elain is also searching for.
To Kill a Kingdom is a novel I’ve wanted to read since it came out in 2018 and kept putting off for various reasons. It is one of the many novels I wanted to make a priority in 2021. Plus, it is a Little Mermaid retelling, my favorite fairy tale after Beauty and the Beast. Mermaids and sirens are some of my favorite mythological creatures. As such, I went into this book with slightly high expectations.
That being said, I was not entirely disappointed by To Kill a Kingdom. But it didn’t completely hit the mark, either.
I would describe the story as plot-driven. Things happened and the characters reacted to them. Sometimes, the characters made decisions that led to certain incidents. Only, often times, the problems the characters encountered resolved too quickly or too easily. There was no real sense of urgency in any of the disasters. Nor did it feel like the decisions they made had no real consequences. The single action that seemed to provide any was Lira accidentally killing a mermaid and being turned into a human.
While the author did not shy away from the gruesomeness of siren society, all the characters and their relationships felt two-dimensional. Lira and Elian had entertaining banter. Both were misfits in their respective kingdoms, thus they had a certain outlook on their respective societies. This made them slightly more interesting as protagonists. Except they, their romance, and all their other positive relationships did not feel as fleshed-out as they could have been.
There was a lot more telling than showing in To Kill a Kingdom. The writing made me feel like I was expected to believe such things without having any real evidence to show for it. This mainly applies to Elian’s relationship with his friends and his crew on the ship. As for Lira’s toxic relationship with her mother, that was more complex than any of the healthier relationships in the book. It is also Lira where her relationships, positive and negative, helped her question what she’s always believed in a new perspective.
As for the romance between Lira and Elian, I’m not sure if I can get behind it. They saw a lot of themselves in each other, which helped bring them find common ground. But given how fiery they were as individuals, I expected a little more spark in their relationship. I was even more baffled by the fact Elain didn’t figure out Lira was a siren; it seemed so obvious to me. Elian and Lira seemed to be better apart than together, which is disappointing for a retelling of The Little Mermaid.
The writing of To Kill a Kingdom was good, but it is definitely a debut novel. The author sometimes uses overly flowery language when simpler descriptions would suffice. Because of this combined with the longer descriptions, I felt more taken out of the story than I was brought in. Surprisingly, the beginning was fast-paced and entertaining. Then, it proceeded to drag for the rest of the novel as the author started in on the info-dumping.
On the flip side to that, the siren/mermaid mythology blended both traditional elements well with the author’s own idea of sirens. The world-building was darkly atmospheric, yet frequently info-dumpy. The author provided more information than was needed in the writing. This did not allow the reader to come to their own conclusions or use their imagination.
Overall, I give To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo 3.25 stars. Despite the overly long descriptions, info-dumping, and slightly weak romance, I did enjoy the storytelling, the world-building, and the author’s take on sirens. While it felt like a debut, but the writing was promising enough that I still want to read Alexandra Christo’s other books. Lastly, I would still recommend it, specifically to people that like mermaids and/or are new to fantasy. A reader new to fantasy might appreciate the longer descriptions more comfortable in the genre.