ARC · Fantasy · Retellings · Young Adult

To Kill a Kingdom

I think I’ve said this so many times that you could all write this part of the intro for me…but I love a retelling. When I saw this (standalone!) Little Mermaid retelling on NetGalley, which promised all the drama and love of the original, but with some added blood and gore, I definitely jumped at the chance to request it. Plus, it has pirates!

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

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“And the ocean, calling out to us both. A song of freedom and longing.”

I’m sure we all know the story of The Little Mermaid, so I’ll skip over the synopsis and just jump right into pointing out some of my favorite details. I love how fierce our heroine, Lira, is. In the original, Ariel is a young, fairly helpless and naïve character, but Lira has so much more going for her (both good and bad). This is in part due to the fact that she is a siren (a more murderous sort of human-fish hybrid, according to all legends), instead of a “normal” mermaid. And in part due to that fact that she’s been raised by her ruthless and emotionally controlling mother, the Sea Queen (our Ursula), to be just as ruthless and emotionless. Essentially her “humanity” has been crushed out of her (see our connection there…). But her mother still doesn’t think it’s enough and as part of a punishment, Lira is turned into a human, told not to return to the sea until she can prove to her mother that she is worthy (by way of being merciless enough) to rule after her. In the bargain she loses her “voice,” her access to the siren song that is used to lure humans to their deaths in the ocean. I love this method of paralleling the original, Ariel’s loss of her voice, without having to take her ability to speak and communicate completely. It definitely made the development of the story easier and more realistic for both the author and the reader that our protagonist could talk.

Our other protagonist, Elian (the Prince Eric), is absolutely fuller than any Disney prince of that era, which was expected and necessary. Because really he’s pretty useless in the Disney version. In any case, that’s probably also because this is a much darker version of the story. I mean, Lira is known for her Prince killing (by ripping hearts out) and Elian has made a name for himself by leaving his “prince” duties behind in favor of a life of piracy and hunting/killing sirens. I love that our main couple are both killers in their own rights, violent and messy. They are equals in background, even if the reasons for starting seem different. And they find common ground, even though they don’t speak to each other about it for quite some time, in struggling with how to fulfill the needs of their parents and prospective kingdoms, while also finding and being true to who they are. It’s a deeper connection than I expected them to have and enjoyed watching it develop and grow as they spent time together.

As far as other aspects of this retelling that I liked, was the story line itself. It centered on a much greater concern than the small/personal “fall in love with me so I can stay a human” story of the original. This story is about worlds at war: sirens killing humans and humans striking back. And it’s about a quest to stop that…or, well, what becomes a quest to stop that (there are a few changes of hearts and plot twists along the way). I won’t spend too much time going into them individually, but there were some fun side/assisting characters too. I mean, not fun in the cute Flounder way, but fun in the way that adds a little light banter and extra intrigue to the plot. The world-building is interesting. It’s clear that a lot went into it – there are so many kingdoms, myths, histories, etc. that are visited and referenced that it’s really impressive. But almost there was so much that I wanted to read more about those, in addition to our main story. I’m not talking a series, but more like, standalone stories focused on characters from each of the different kingdoms that are mentioned – they are all so different and fascinating and there wasn’t enough time here to learn everything I wanted to about them. And I loved, loved, the ending! I mean yes, the conclusion to the story itself was written well and fit the story and characters, so I liked that. But even more than that I love the little “wrap-up chapter” – where Lira and Elian find themselves afterwards. The roles they are playing and how they are balancing these with who they have decided to be, as people (as siren?), and with spending time together. It’s a wonderful ending of compromise and support that is empowering for both. And that’s fairly rare. I really appreciated it.

The one thing that kind of was too much for me was some of the internal thoughts we get from Lira and Elian. Their alternating chapter perspectives, which I did like, allowed us insight into both their though processes. And that was nice. But I think there was maybe too much exposition there. A number of their thoughts/conclusions were described multiple times, or they went back and forth on them to an extent that got a little annoying. This was made worse because I think sometimes the editing was off just a little…and the “talking in circles” seemed like it actually ended up saying the opposite of what the author wanted it to. Like, it almost confused itself, if that makes sense. So I could have done with a little less of that repetition/disorientation. It just could have used a little more polish (maybe because this was an ARC?). Also, I’m not sure about the title…I mean I guess I get it, but it doesn’t seem to totally fit, in my opinion.

However, all in all, this was a super enjoyable read. The darker side that we get here was a terrific addition to the story, especially the banter between Lira and Elian (dark and snarky, just like I like it). And it had great pacing, with just the right blend of reference to the original tale and unique characteristics all its own, which is exactly what I look for in a retelling.

Thanks to NetGalley and that publisher, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.


There were a surprising number of quotes that jumped out at me while reading this. Usually with retellings I get lost in the story and the words get…less important (if that makes sense). I think it’s partially because I enjoyed the dialogue so much. Regardless, here are a couple for you to enjoy:

“You are a little heartless today, aren’t you?”
“Never,” I say. “There are seventeen under my bed.”

“Technically, I’m a murderer, but I like to think that’s one of my better qualities.”

“Homes are hard to find.”

“Did you make a wish?”
“Maybe I stole one instead.”

“…there is only this. Me, my ship, and a girl with oceans in her eyes.”

“Some people burn so brightly, it’s impossible to put the flames out.”

“Lies aren’t answers.”
“But they sound so much better than the truth.”

“But I don’t need people to die for me anymore. And I don’t need them to die because of me either.”

“It’s like holding a storm rather than a person; she feels wild and infinite in my arms.”

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16 thoughts on “To Kill a Kingdom

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