Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Retellings
Dark, seductive and oh so beautiful.
Dark as a stormy night.
Seductive as the call of a siren.
Beautiful like the bluest sea.
I marvel at how wonderful most of the 2018 YA releases have been. Even though the time I dedicate to reading is far less than what my heart desires (thank you adult life, really), discovering books that sing their melodies to my soul and enchant me to oblivion is a fair compensation. Reading To Kill a Kingdom was last week's highlight. A blessing. It was a retelling of the Little Mermaid made of foam, blood and stars. So, I simply devoured it.
“I’ ve made a mistake. It started with a prince, as most stories do.”
But Elian is not a prince like the others. He's a pirate at heart, and the only place he feels at home is the ocean and his war ship. His kingdom and his responsibilities suffocate him, and so he roams the seas, hunting sirens and making the seas a safer place. Lira, on the other hand, is the daughter of the Sea Queen, known as the Prince's Bane. Each year she harvests a prince's heart on her birthday, as a way to prove her ruthlessness to her cruel mother and secure the loyalty of her future subjects. Monstrous and inhumanly beautiful, the sirens only exist for power, and every other feeling is considered weakness. Until the Prince's Bane and the Siren Hunter cross paths. An unpredictable turn of events brings the Sea Queen's wrath upon Lira, and she ends up exiled, having two legs instead of a tail, and an order to rip the heart out of Elian's still warm body. Elian wants to exterminate the sirens and their Queen. Lira wants to take the throne that belongs to her. In order to achieve their goals, the two sworn enemies need each other. Until the final confrontation, that will probably end with one of them dead. Which one, well that is the question.
“So many hearts. You'll soon run out of room to bury them all.”
“Maybe. But a princess must have her prince.”
To Kill a Kingdom is a dark and slightly twisted fairytale. During the first half of the book, I couldn't shake the notion that it's not a typical story about the prince saving the princess, or vice-versa. Lira and Elian were both anti-heroes, two souls who seemed beneath salvation. Lira begins her narration stating nonchalantly that she collects the hearts of princes, while Elian claims that he's a murderer, and that's not his worst trait. Their hands are stained with blood, something they do not crave, but accept nonetheless. But as the story progressed, something cracked inside of them, and thus inside of me. Lira tasted freedom for the first time in her tragic life, she tasted humanity, and compassion she could not comprehend. Elian found himself trusting this venomous girl with the secrets, and somewhere along the way realised that maybe death is not the only way. In the end, I came to the conclusion that no, it was not a story of anti-heroes. It was the story of the forging of two heroes.
“Be the queen we need you to be. ”
I can't pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with To Kill a Kingdom. Maybe it happened during the very first chapter, maybe halfway through. Alexandra Christo has the uncanny ability of bringing characters and objects alike to life. My feelings are like the surface of the sea, calm and then tumultuous, and then peaceful once more. My mind is soaked with images and senses. I can taste licorice in my tongue, and inhale the salty air. I can see the deck of an enormous ship where a siren seethes and turns to foam. Two lonely figures gazing at the stars. A song that speaks of undying love and devotion. Black tentacles scraping skin, and evil laughter that pierces my bones. A sea named after the Devil with the colour of sapphires. Every description was heartbreakingly beautiful, and there was something in the narration that made me feel that I was sitting next to Elian and Lira, listening to their soft voices while the sun burned my skin and the cold water licked my feet. Alexandra Christo's prose was magical, her world-building simple yet full of imagination; her lores were entrancing, and her world pulsated with monsters and monstrous humans, brutality and violence, but also a fiery need to belong, to be the person you want to be instead of the one that was forced on you.
“In my heart, I’m as wild as the ocean that raised me.”
The story of Elian and Lira was pure magic. Two enemies bred in blood, two souls burdened by expectations and invinsible chains, they forged an unwanted alliance, unaware that they would both change in a way they never predicted. There were no flowers and sonnets and love declarations. There were insults, betrayal, lies and deception, that tethered their souls nonetheless. Love didn't make them mushy. It made them strong, and they emerged from their trials better, wiser, more complete.
“He has eyes like vast pools and a jaw made from shipwrecks and broken coral. Every movement he makes is as quick and fluid as a tidal wave. He belongs to the ocean. He is made from it, as much as I am.”
Hearts are at stake in To Kill a Kingdom, a mesmerizing, deeply enthralling story about power, freedom and love. I can't recommend it highly enough!
P.S. My only complaint is technical. Psàriin, the language of sea, is basically Greek. Being my native language, I have to point out that, even though the use of individual words was correct (and I felt really proud because that doesn't happen quite frequently), the sentences had some issues, and to a person speaking Greek they sounded funny. That's all folks!