This novel’s world bursts with exuberant inventiveness. The Little Mermaid source material is taken to stunning, fresh heights in this expertly-crafted YA fantasy. This novel’s high quality writing and immensely intriguing concept carry it to four stars—brought down only by a satisfactory plot structured almost entirely around a big ol’ mcguffin to search for and a very predictable ending.
Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.
The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?
This review is spoiler-free.
NOT SO LITTLE ANYMORE
The sun weighs on my back. Its heat presses against my neck and causes my hair to stick to my wet skin. I ache for the ice of the sea, so sharp with cold that it feels like glorious knives in the slits between my bones.
The concept for this novel starts with a bang. Sorry, I meant a bane. The Prince’s Bane. The way way Christo has constructed this world and its hundred kingdoms is sublime, and the main character Lira is no exception. Sure, the Sea Queen (Ursula but this time actually, seriously evil, and also Lira’s mother) takes her song, but Lira oozes agency and self-ness throughout this entire novel. Her decisions are arguably more important than anyone in the entire novel, shaping the plot and changing both her and those around her. And that’s really awesome to read, because sometimes in books like this, even if the heroine is physically badass, even if she can talk trash, she doesn’t have the power to back it up. Lira does.
The romance in this novel doesn’t overshadow either her character or Prince Charming’s. Sorry, that’s—Elian. His name is Elian. But really, even by today’s booktok standards, he’s Prince Charming. Despite the dual-POV, Elian is pretty much your standard fare as far as YA Princes go. Irreverant until he worships the heroine, a killer with a heart of gold (literally, so say the legends), a joke-cracking pirate who doesn’t want the stuffy responsibility of his princedom. I’d yawn, but I mean, it’s still fun to read. Why mess with a formula when it’s still working just fine?
LET’S PLAY: GOOD WRITING OR GOOD FORMULA?
Aside from the deliciously new concept, there isn’t much new about the way these characters interact or the way the nuts and bolts of the plot fit together. Enemies to lovers. Found family. Endearing jokes and barbs.
But the thing is—all this stuff works really well. I love enemies to lovers, and it’s believable in our two leads of To Kill a Kingdom. And I hate how well the quest-for-the-powerful-object structure gets me invested.
The one thing that didn’t work—or at least, that smelled a little stale—were the side characters. Elian’s crew feel like halfhearted copy-and-pastes of more interesting characters I’ve read in Jay Kristoff, Sarah J. Maas, and Leigh Bardugo. So come for the two leads and the super cool sea-witch villain, or not at all.
There were actually many moments of genuinely good YA writing. Not too complex, but with a sweet aftertaste of wisdom or beauty. You can’t win a war. Someone else just loses.
Homes are hard to find.
Lira tips her chin up, eyes defiant and too blue for me to look at her straight. At first I’m not sure if she’s going to say anything back, but then she licks her lips and I know it’s because she can taste the sweetness of the insult she’s about to throw.