I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid as a child, we even have a picture of me dressed as Ariel sitting by my Grandma‘ s tropical fish tank when I was about six or seven. It will never see the light of day on the internet, but it’s a thing. As someone who has always been a weak swimmer and is afraid of large bodies of water, yet who is fascinated by the ocean and all that lives within, the idea of being able to swim, breathe and live beneath the waves was incredible to me. To Kill a Kingdom has all the appeal of my childhood mermaid dreams combined with the darkness and classic mythological roots I’ve come to enjoy in my books as an adult. Fairy tales are meant to be scary, and this one certainly lives up to that.
A sort of re-exploration of the classic Little Mermaid tale with a gothic twist, To Kill a Kingdom chooses instead of the traditionally ethereal mermaids to focus on a creature from ancient myths and sailor’s nightmares – the siren. Celebrating their birthday each year by luring a human into the ocean, ripping out their heart and burying it beneath the sand where they live, these creatures are far from the type who would sing about love and brush their hair with forks. If they sing, you’d better hope you can’t hear them or not only will you die, you’ll be glad to do it. There are also mermaids in this tale, but you won’t find them reclining on a warm rock in a bay and you certain won’t want to kiss them.
Known as the Prince’s Bane, Lira has taken the heart of a human prince for every year she has lived and soon will inherit the kingdom of the Keto from her tyrannical mother. Punished for her misdeeds with a pair of legs and a quest for revenge, she seeks the heart of the man she blames for her misfortune. Elian, prince of Midas, does not want to rule. A pirate at heart, he has gained himself a reputation as a siren killer on the open ocean and earned the trust of a loyal, and hilarious, crew of misfits. I loved how this book took inspiration from classic mythology, with the sirens being dangerous creatures whose goal is not love but pure, joyful murder and the land of Midas with its royal family whose blood is supposedly pure molten gold. As well as this, there seem to be a few loving nods to the Disney movie. The character who condemns Lira to a life of humanity on land has tentacles, and the characters that spark her idea to go after Prince Elian have eel-like tails. This may not have been intentional, but I like to think it was a nod to Ursula and her slimy henchmen.
Now you know I’m a fan of world building, and Christo does a superb job with this. The kingdoms of the novel are wonderfully unique and beautifully named. From the Kingdom of Keto far beneath the Diávolos Sea where lurks the Siren Queen, a fearsome sorceress whose power controls the oceans to the land of Eidýllio with its lonely monarch, unable to touch the skin of men without driving them mad with love, each kingdom is characterised through distinctive traits, customs and people. Midas, for example, is literally covered in gold which I can imagine isn’t great fun on sunny days. The book even introduces us a little to Psáriin, the language of the sirens, and I’m one of those nerds who loves a fictional language so this was a big plus for me. On top of this the description is stunning. Characters, races, locations, all are beautifully captured and easy to picture
There is a love story in this novel, as one might expect, but it is excellently done. I loved Lira and Elian, with their witty wordplay and exceptionally different world views, and I found myself actively rooting for them. The pacing of it was excellent, showing both the growth of the relationship between them and Lira’s shift from remorseless human-killer to someone genuinely sympathetic and changed. It was realistic, and not too rushed, and readers experienced alongside her the jarring gap between what she discovers to be right and what she must do to save herself and others. Thematically, To Kill a Kingdom deals heavily with the difference between tyranny and loyalty that is earned, and not demanded. Slavery and freedom of various types and forms litter the book, from the slavers who literally kidnap children and train them to be killers to the Siren Queen’s magical hold on those in her kingdom whose lives hang in the balance at the slightest of mistakes. For some, freedom is the ability to choose who to be and where to go, for others it is the literal escape from shackles and it can even be found in political marriages of convenience if you look closely enough. (One of these is between two women, which is not only normalised but makes total sense for both involved, it’s awesome).
Overall I thought this book was superb, and I desperately wanted more of it. Christo is definitely an author I’ll look out for in future, and I’ll almost certainly reread the book at some stage. If you’re a fan of mythology, mermaids and fantasy this is a recommendation from me: read To Kill a Kingdom, you won’t regret it.
Overall rating: 📖📖📖📖📖 5 books out of 5
A copy of To Kill a Kingdom was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.