Takeaways: To Kill a Kingdom

by - Monday, April 29, 2019

My Takeaways: This book has a fantastic first chapter. What makes the main character, Lira, an antihero? I am reminded how easy it is for authors to 'unsuspend' readers’ disbelief.

In “Takeaways,” I review books by analyzing how they can teach me—and hopefully other writers—about the craft of writing instead of focusing mainly on my reactions to the story (though there’s always a bit of that too).

Spoiler Warning: I delve into spoiler territory in this article. I’ll mark all spoilers in red.

Title: To Kill a Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Publisher: Fiewel and Friends
Genres: YA Fantasy, Retelling

Official Synopsis

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?

First Chapter

Every writer knows how important a first chapter—especially that first line—is to hooking a reader. A first chapter must set a scene, introduce a character her goals and conflict, and be intriguing… all while giving a taste of what the rest of the book is going to be like.

Most books I read have a great first chapter, but To Kill a Kingdom’s is one of the best I’ve ever read. Hands down.

The best feature of this chapter is Lira’s voice. Her musings are deliciously wicked, especially in this chapter. She introduces herself, her world, her circumstances without sounding like she’s introducing anything. Each paragraph builds on the next, painting a vivid picture of how she sees the world.

My favorite part is a little twist on the second page where the author springs a piece of valuable information in such a surprising way it made me laugh in delight. I won’t say what it is exactly because I don’t want to spoil the fun (hint: It’s about mermaids). If you’re seeking first chapters to learn from to improve your own, you will want to check this book out.

Antihero Arcs

Lira is vicious, competitive, violent, and undeterred from her goal to kill princes every year. She was raised to be ruthless and heartless. She has every good trait of a villain, and she embraces that. There were times it was hard to sympathize with her, and other times it was easy. For me, her character arc was fascinating to see unfold and learn from. I think any writer who wants to write flawed characters can learn from antiheroes.

*Spoilers ahead*

Lira’s is a redemptive arc, so in the end she learns from her flaws and becomes a better person. I noticed there were two main things that aided in this shift: Her motivation changed, and her morals broke down.

Changed motivation. After Lira is turned human, the only thing she wants to do is find the one thing that will destroy her mother, the Sea Queen. She wants to do this because her mother humiliated her and so Lira doesn’t have to stay human forever. After she gets to know Elian, however, she realizes that she wants to destroy the Sea Queen because she wants peace for the sirens, not more wars. Her main goal stays the same, but her motivations have shifted.

Broken down morals. As I said before, Lira is ruthless and vicious—her morals are not decent, and in the beginning, she is totally accepting of that. Her view of her morals breaks down the longer she knows Elian because she begins to question what she was taught. She begins to realize that she could be better, and she does become better.

What I find particularly interesting is that a character the exact opposite of Lira, a good person turning bad, would go through the opposite arc. He or she would have great morals that are broken down until that good person does bad things.

Suspension of Disbelief

Usually when a book has something so egregiously unbelievable that I have to stop and think about it for too long, I stop reading it. Luckily, I kept reading, so I thought this was a good time to discuss this topic.

To Kill a Kingdom killed my suspension of disbelief once. Obviously, I finished the book, so the author managed to get me back into the story, but that one time threw me out so hard it surprised me. For those of you curious about what it was, here is a brief, spoiler-y summary:

There’s an incident between some of the characters where one throws rum with gold flakes in it into someone’s face. Those gold flakes cut the character’s eye. Isn’t gold known for being malleable? Especially gold flakes! Heck, we cover cakes with it—if it cut us, we wouldn’t use it. Okay, rant over. (Also, if this somehow can happen, please someone correct. I’d say my own small research journey checked out, but who knows).

This was a good reminder for me to do my research. It’s so easy to lose a reader.


I will easily admit that I’m a bit harder on retellings than most books, though it's especially true when it's a retelling that claims to retell “The Little Mermaid.” That’s my favorite fairy tale, and I have yet to find a retelling that feels true to Han Christian Anderson’s story.

Despite that, I really enjoyed the first half of the book. The world was interesting, the characters were fun, and the stakes were high. The last half of the book fell a little flat for me. The plot felt a little repetitive and predictable, and the romance lacked chemistry (despite the characters both being awesome—it was a strange experience, tbh).

That ending though. That was fantastic. I was coming to the end and I was silently yelling, how is this going to end?! Loved it.

This is definitely for readers who indiscriminately enjoy retellings. If you love pirates, high-fantasy worlds, and an antihero protagonist, you’ll like this, too. I hear it’s for people who enjoyed Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller (I loved that one!).

Content Notes: There is some violence (ripping out of hearts, stabbing, slaying, etc.) and some swearing.

How much time have you put into your first chapter? Also, if you have any retelling recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

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