BWW Reviews: TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo
"I HAVE A HEART for every year I've been alive. There are seventeen hidden in the sand of my bedroom."
~TO KILL A KINGDOM
TO KILL A KINGDOM is already a 2018 favorite, and even better, it's a stand-alone and not part of a series. Out this week, TKAK will hook readers from page one.
Look at this opening hook: "I have a heart for every seventeen years I've been alive. There are seventeen hidden in the sand of my bedroom." What I love most about the novel portrays itself on the very first page. This world is brutal and violent. In my head, mermaids--and especially sirens--are NOT as sweet and innocent and happy and child-like as we think. We think of mermaids like Ariel. But mermaids are creatures. Beasts. Not actually human. They are wild. They are savage. When I find a book that aligns with this tone, the world instantly feels more "natural" to me. Princess Lira is a siren and she has absolutely no desire to ever be a human. She'd rather tear out their hearts. Sirens are required to tear out a human's heart the month of their birth each year. They can only do it that month, and how many hearts they collect signifies how old they are. Hearts also give them power and strength.
When Lira takes the heart of a prince two weeks before her birthday, her mother is FURIOUS and, as Sea Queen, punishes her by destroying the heart and ordering her daughter to take an ordinary sailor heart as her prize in two weeks. Lira refuses. She has always had a prince heart, and as future queen, she needs the kingdom to fear her. They'll lose respect for her if she takes anything less than a prince heart. She decides she is going to go after the heart of Prince Elian, the notorious Siren Killer bent on eradicating her kind. To punish her for her disobedience, the Sea Queen, in a moment reminiscent of Ursula in Disney's The Little Mermaid, transforms her daughter into a human and says she'll never be allowed to shed her human skin unless she brings her Elian's heart...a much harder feat now that she herself is a human.
Prince Elian, on the other hand, has no idea that he's about to collide with the deadliest threat to his life. He wants to kill the Princes' Bane, the one who kills his friends each year, the one who surely wants his own heart. When he pulls a shivering, vulnerable Lira from the sea onto his boat, he has no clue what her true nature is. He plans to use her and her knowledge of sirens to destroy the sirens and their evil queen once and for all...but he's also not sure he can turn his back on Lira without being betrayed...
TKAK flips between the viewpoints of both Lira and Elian. Both are brutal and cold, but have so much more to them than meets the eye. I was surprised by the humor I found in Elian, and found that he often lightened the page and made me smile. I adored his personality. I also cared deeply for Lira and her impossible quest. She never wanted to be human. She hates being on land. She is ready to stab all the humans in the back the moment they turn around. But she also goes through an incredible amount of growth and really wormed her way into my heart.
I think part of why I love TKAK so much is because Alexandra Christo's writing is gorgeous. I was constantly posting updates on Goodreads because there were so many beautiful sentences, and I didn't share nearly all of them. Her writing style really pulled me in and made me want to read other books by her, sight unseen, because she has a way of bringing the world to life through perfectly shaped words that lend atmosphere and intent and give a very specific vibe to the book that had me both wanting to draw things out to savor the moment as well as wanting to desperately inhale everything all at once.
Here's just one descriptive sentence: "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."
She also manages to use writing to portray different languages, and actively showcases them in a way that makes it feel more authentic through sentences such as, "I feel maddened by the Midasan on my tongue. Its smooth sounds are too quaint to display my anger. I itch to spit the knives of my own language at him. Tear him down with the skewers of Psáriin, where each word can wound," or, "She hisses the last part. The raw and scratchy way her voice pounces on the Midasan, like the words aren't enough to convey what she's feeling, makes my head swim." Books often talk the talk about having different languages present, but too frequently fail at walking the walk and showing readers how different they are in a way that's easy to visualize. It often feels that we're just seeing the same phrasing and cadence in translation with no real difference between the languages. Through Christo's writing, however, I can visibly see the difference and it built the world out even further for me.
I also really liked the unique way mermaids are described in TKAK. It's quite unlike anything I've seen before! Things like, "Mermaids are ghastly things with minds that work in mysteries and lips made from riddles," and, "Mermaids are spies, through and through, their ears pressed to every corner of the ocean. It's what makes them dangerous. They devour secrets as easily as they could loosen their jaws and devour ships." There are quite a few fundamental differences between sirens and mermaids. Sirens have a really poor opinion of mermaids, and for good reason. Also, the reason for the existence of mermaids and how they came to be is really cool, and really built the world further. I loved everything about their origin and their horrible existence! (There's actually a scene where a couple of them remind me of the eels Flotsam and Jetsam from The Little Mermaid, which always scared me a bit as a kid with their creepiness!)
There are so many reasons I loved TKAK, and to go into all of them would just resort in gushing and, perhaps, spoilers. But I adored this book so much and am really excited to hold a finished copy in my hands. The book just released, and I highly recommend grabbing yourself a copy as soon as possible!