Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns #1)
By: Kendare Blake
Publication Date: September 20th, 2016
Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.
If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.
This has been on my to-read pile for a while, partly because of the wonderfully sinister synopsis and partially because I enjoyed Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood duology. But I thought it would be a fun read, and MAN, was I right. A good rule of thumb: any book with a sinister child’s rhyme included is going to satisfy any cravings for strange and creepy.
I might have fallen in love with the book in the first chapter and the morbidly elegant Poisoner’s Ball, where everyone wore venomous snakes and where eating a feastful of poison was a rite of passage. But I continued to fall in love with the book as it described the rough, simple naturalist city and the formal brutality of the Temple. The structured ritualism contrasting with the stark brutality of the queen fight was a solidly creepy background, as well. There’s such an undercurrent of darkness running through the entire book, it’s delightful.
Several people on Goodreads noted that the multiple POVs (the three Queens) made reading this difficult at first. For some reason, I didn’t have that problem. Maybe because I came forewarned, or maybe because I felt able to tell the Queens apart from the get-go. They were all such startlingly different people–Katharine’s fragile cunning, Arsinoe’s fierce determination, and Mirabella’s reckless emotion. It takes a lot of writerly skill to balance POVs and make each character the protagonist, and I was surprised and impressed that Kendare Blake had that skill. Every Queen felt like a clever, relatable mix of light and dark. I couldn’t figure out which one I liked the best, which one I was rooting for, and I enjoyed my indecision. What might have made it confusing, I admit, is that other secondary characters like Jules or Natalia have their POVs as well, which was almost too much.
Part of what made each Queen different was that each was deeply flawed. Mirabella, although she has a strong power, is intensely emotional and finds the idea of killing her sisters impossible. Arsinoe and Katharine have no such qualms, but they are both ‘failures’–Arsinoe has no naturalist touch, and Katharine is unable to handle poison. But what they lack in power, they try to make up for in cunning and trickery.
What made this all more intense were the factions behind each Queen. Katharine was more or less a puppet controlled by the Poisoners, who were determined to keep their hold on the ruling council and the island. Mirabella was the not-quite puppet of the sacrifice-inclined Temple, although I appreciated her rebellion. And Arsinoe, although the Naturalists stayed out of politics, was driven on by her friend’s mother Madrigal and her own questionable goals. Part of the reason that I felt sympathy for each queen was that they were struggling to find their individuality despite these overarching factions and their own ritualistic destinies.
And the love interests/triangles/whatever they are. OH MY LORD. Three female protagonists means THREE TIMES THE LOVE DRAMA. But again, each love arc was so different. You had Katharine’s devious dance with Pietr, Arsinoe’s companionship with Billy, and Mirabella’s stormy, tension-filled relationship with Joseph. (I was holding out hope that Mirabella would be at least bi, but oh well). Again, the structured rituals made it all more intense, since every possible suitor is supposed to at least try and court every Queen.
And the most amazing thing about this book is the plot. Even with three different protagonists, numerous narrators, and a set-in-stone ritual murder structure, the plot still had so many twists and turns to it. And, better yet, none of them were artificial or out of the realm of possibility. It was just that I’d be reading, and then something would happen, and then at the start of the next chapter things would click and I’d frantically flip back going ‘WAIT, did THAT just happen?’ And every surprise ratcheted up the tension another level, so that by the end I nearly jumped out of my seat reading. I almost screamed on one of the last pages.
The bottom line is this: READ IT. Because it’s not just the plot of three Queens enter, one Queen leaves. It’s not just the masterful balancing of POVs and individual characters. It’s not just the ridiculous love story (ies). It’s not even the insanely twisty plot. It’s ALL OF IT. Wrapped in ONE book.
So read it, and then weep bitter tears that One Dark Throne is not yet out.
BONUS: We met Kendare Blake at YALLfest, and she told us that it was based on bee colonies. You’re welcome.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.