TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo is a dark tale of hunter versus hunter splashed against an epic backdrop of shining empires, deadly waters, and intricate lore.
I don’t remember how I first came across To Kill a Kingdom, but the premise outlined on the back cover stuck with me so much that I just had to get my hands on it. It’s a story caught somewhere between the Disney version of The Little Mermaid and the terrifying, ancient tales of the sirens from the land of Greece.
It’s swimming with suspense, slow-build romance, and the destructive volatility that erupts when right and wrong is pitted against loyalty and duty.
Overall, this was an enthralling book with expansive world-building and uniquely drawn main characters. The ending probably won’t surprise you, but the journey there will drag you under.
To Kill A Kingdom
by Alexandra Christo
TO KILL A KINDGOM by Alexandra Christo is a story rife with inner and outer turmoil. Our characters are forged by hardship, necessity, and survival against impossible enemies.
Lira is the heir to the dread and cruel Sea Queen, who commands every monster of the ocean with her legendary magical trident, set with a stone said to be the eye of a slain goddess. Lira considers herself every bit as heartless and cunning as her mother, but her ambition is no match for the Sea Queen’s fury. Once known as the Princes’ Bane for her record of luring royals to their doom, Lira is punished with the task of hunting her most dangerous target of all– and she must do it on two legs, without her song.
Elian is the reluctant prince of a mighty kingdom, but his calling is to the ocean, where he and his crew have gained renown as the only men and women willing (and able) to hunt the sirens back. He burns for the chance to end the Princes’ Bane, who has killed many acquaintances and now a close personal friend. He has no idea that the drowning woman he rescues from the waves is not only his quarry, but the key to destroying the Sea Queen herself.
Whoever can manipulate the other most successfully is the one who won’t die.
This book is very violent and includes a theme of self-inflicted pain as a release. It is by no means a Christian book, with allusions to the gods and goddesses of the story, as well as the mention of one LGBQ+ marriage.
What I Liked
The two main characters are both dynamic, with true arcs. I have a pet peeve about enemies-to-in-love books that don’t manage to provide an adequate transition; Christo pulls it off very well. There is a very good ration of action to suspense that really keeps the reader on the page. Descriptions of the underwater realm, as well as the various kingdoms and cultures, are intriguing and vivid. The use of a Grecian-style language, especially for the names of places in the story, gives the whole thing a very ancient feel and struck me as very fitting for a tale about murderous sirens.
My favorite thing about this book? There’s a certain use of language that feels metaphorical and yet isn’t. There’s a moment, for instance, when someone’s lipstick is called “dark enough to hide all her secrets.” I pursed my own lips reading that line; it was delicious. Then, only a chapter or so later, I found out how surprisingly literal such a phrase could be.
What I Didn’t Like
While the main characters of To Kill a Kingdom were extremely dimensional, some of the side characters felt a bit cookie-cutter. There was the father who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps; there was the best friend and suspicious protector, the best friend’s girlfriend with a troubled past, and the nearly silent gentle giant who suddenly becomes formidable at the crucial moment. None of them are totally undeveloped, and of course, there’s only so much word count an author can afford to dedicate to the supporting cast, but a little more depth would have made up for the commonality of the tropes.
Piggybacking on character development, I also had a hard time visualizing some of the characters. Many were painted in delicious, acute detail– such as Lira, Elian, the Sea Queen, and every mermaid (worth it. The mermaids are awesome). Unfortunately, several of the humans are described with very similar language (there was a lot of use of the word “brown” without distinction), and I find myself in some cases picturing their clothes much more distinctly than their faces.
TO KILL A KINGDOM: A
Alexandra Christo constructed an opening chapter that successfully takes us all the way into the story. We are given the main character’s essential characteristics with just enough backstory, all during the suspense of an active siren’s hunt. My one critique: there’s a description of mermaids that I found a bit distracting and tangental. The description of mermaids when one is actually introduced is far juicier and successful, and I can’t help but feel the first chapter could have been smoother without mentioning them just yet.
There was also a rather dense usage of fragment sentences in the beginning. I don’t mind fragments, which can be very effective in conveying the way we actually think, especially in first person… yet, there has to be variety. This is a critique I hesitate to mention because it ceases to be distracting very early in the story, but I want to acknowledge it in case anyone has a pet peeve: if I’m talking to you, just hold out a couple of chapters and it will stop bothering you. Unless it’s a REALLY big pet-peeve. In which case, I apologize for this immediate series of fragment sentences that I just wrote.
I know, I know, writing has made me way too picky as a reader.
One other thing: the use of first person present tense is not a typical choice, but boy was it the right choice for this novel. It was deftly done. The whole thing thrums with bare restraint and relentlessly exchanges anger and passion in a way that is hard to separate, setting a distinctly ominous tone with an unmistakable voice. It truly puts you in the mind of the person through whose eyes your seeing. It even makes you feel like you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next, even if you kind of do, because it makes you feel like the thing hasn’t happened yet. It seems to leave the ending open and unpredictable, even though we all know there’s only one ending that will satisfy.
Have you read TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo? Have a book to recommend to me? Let me know!