To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

A savage yet still somehow YA retelling of The Little Mermaid fairy tale that eschews insipidity and gender tropes, but has some really annoyingly poor language choices throughout. Princess Lira is a siren, seventeen years old and raised by her mother the Sea Queen to be a deadly killer. Her preferred target is the princes of the Hundred Kingdoms and, once every year, she finds one to draw into the ocean before ripping his heart out as a trophy. When she accidentally saves the life of Prince Elian of Midas, her enraged (and quite frankly a bit deranged) mother, punishes her by turning her into a human. Only if Lira kills Elian will she be returned to her natural state.

But Elian is a killer himself, a hunter of the sirens who prey on humanity. Preferring the wide ocean waters to the kingdom he is heir to, he sails around the world with his handpicked crew, searching for a way to end the siren threat once and for all. When a man comes to him in a tavern, promising an ancient artifact that could effect this, Elian cannot help but be intrigued. When his and Lira’s paths cross, Lira too becomes privy to this information, and forms her own plan to make the powerful artifact hers.

On the whole, it’s a thrilling tale of pirates and treasure hunting with sassy, believable characters; terrific world-building, and a plot that essentially takes the fairytale we all know and mostly love and gives it a fresh interpretation with 100% less romantic pining and 100% more self-actualization and ambition. There were some really odd gaps in the logic (e.g. Sakura’s stay in Midas made not a lick of sense; I didn’t understand the mermaids’ motivations half the time; how did Kardia just suddenly show up in the conversation) and there were a lot of inappropriately used words. Not that there were profanities, just that some of the conversations were absolute drivel because the words were being used as nonsense babbling. Elian at one point asks Lira if she needs him to keep a secret, and she responds that she needs him to keep a favor but then asks him for something that is in no way, shape or form a favor, and I guess that at that point they’re so worn out from their journey that this seems the height of wordplay but it’s really not and it’s kinda annoying, in the “stop trying to make fetch happen” sort of way. I appreciate the inventive use of language but that was not what was on display here. And while I liked that the book was told from alternating viewpoints, I think it would have really helped if those had been demarcated by chapter headings or somesuch instead of randomly switching without warning.

Anyway! It was still a really cool retelling of Disney’s version of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, and I greatly enjoyed it, with those few exceptions. I especially liked how it examined radicalization and deprogramming, albeit lightly, as well as trust and the benefits of laying down arms. The female characters were complex and multi-dimensional throughout and I especially enjoyed the relationship between Lira and Madrid. Bonus points also for being a standalone novel and not part of some unnecessarily multi-book behemoth.

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