I first saw Three Dark Crowns on the shelf at my local bookshop. And then I saw the same book either side of it, only these two editions had yellowy-orange spines, not green like the one in the middle. So, my curiosity piqued, I read the back cover blurb (on both coloured spine books to make sure they were the same) and I was hooked by the premise straight away! I wanted to buy it immediately, but there was one problem.
After reading just the blurb alone I had chosen my queen – Katharine, the Poisoner queen (and the green cover), but I preferred the cover art of Arsinoe, the Naturalist queen (and the red cover). After much debate I decided to leave the shop empty handed and order the red cover online. The wait was agony, the premise was so good and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in!
“They are queens. They must die.”
The story revolves around three triplet queens, all with equal claim to the throne, separated in childhood and essentially abandoned by their birth mother, with each in possession of a principle form of magic. They live with foster families of sorts, in factions in different geographical regions of their island where their magical gifts can flourish. When they come of age, the tender age of 16, the sisters must fight to the death until only one remains to take the throne.
Katharine is the poisoner queen. Poisoners are known to be experts at crafting poisons but, more impressively, they are impervious to poison. They can ingest it, touch it – do whatever they like and no harm will come to them. However, Katharine is written as the weakest queen, both in physical form and her gift. She has been slowly poisoned over the years by her faction family, and instead of building a tolerance it stunted her growth and her gift has still not developed. Her township has no confidence in her ability to become the next queen and aren’t exactly shy about letting her know this.
Arsinoe is the naturalist queen and, similar to Katharine, has not developed her gift either. Naturalists can control nature, from making flowers bloom to controlling animals – in fact the main benefit of having the naturalist magic is acquiring a familiar. These are animals that are somewhat linked to a person. Arsinoe not only has no gift, but no familiar either. Instead her friend, Jules, not only has a strong naturalist gift, but also an impressive beast for a familiar. Arsinoe’s township doesn’t have much faith in her to win the throne either, but don’t seem as hostile as Katharine’s township.
Mirabella is the final triplet and is the elemental queen. Even from a young age she has shown incredible power and continues to do so throughout the book. She is the favourite (by almost the entire island) to be crowned. Elementals can control the elements, including the weather at times. Her township holds little hostility towards her, but Mirabella is surrounded by the priestesses of the island – who should remain impartial in the triplets’ destinies, but don’t.
“No one really wishes to be a queen.”
There are many themes and subplots going on in this novel, but none feel to be too much, nor under-done either. We are exposed to several different ideologies and ways of living that add a nice seasoning to the meat of the story without getting bogged down in too much detail. Examples of this include the island itself and the Goddess – we’re never sure if they are one and the same, but there are certainly times where the island itself seems alive. We’re also allowed to dip our toes in the waters of low magic and the mystique that surrounds it.
I do feel that (at times) there were a few too many characters and places in the novel. Each queen has her own ‘world’ and naturally has her own friends and the author has three different scenes to set. However there were times when it seemed to be a bit too heavy on the info-dump. BUT I am not an avid fantasy or sci-fi reader, so perhaps this wouldn’t be a problem for more seasoned readers in this genre.
One thing I will say though is that I felt that too much page-time was given to one particular side character; Jules. We spend the most page-time in Arsinoe’s ‘world’ and a huge chunk of that time isn’t even with the queen, it’s with her friend Jules. Some people love Jules, but I personally didn’t care enough about her and wanted to read about Arsinoe. I got a little tired of reading about Jules and her life and her relationships – which leads me nicely onto my other slightly negative point.
“Only a king-consort is fool enough to love a queen.”
There are romances in the book, and whilst they aren’t the focus, I do feel that they get in the way a little bit and aren’t all necessary to drive the plot forward. One romance comes completely out of left field and just left me like “huh?…what?”. I get that these queens are teenagers and hormones will rage, but I’d have thought they’d be more engrossed with the murder of their sisters and their own survival.
I don’t want you thinking that I didn’t like this book – the exact opposite is true (I loved it), but I felt that in the interest of a fair review I should mention the very few things I didn’t like, and they certainly weren’t enough to ruin the book!
My favourite queen, as mentioned, is Katharine and that’s for a great many number of reasons! The first is I just had an indescribable attraction and pull to her character – I was totally drawn in and I was rooting for her right from the start. The other thing is her “world” is so beautifully described. It’s gothic and dark and plush with elements of hostility and deadliness lurking in the corners. I relished every second I spent in her world. I’m not sure what kind of magic poison is, but I’m all for it! Even the poisoned foods she eats at the Gave Noir were described in such decadent, gorgeous detail that I just couldn’t help but wish I was part of it – just listen to this description of the scorpions:
“Pretty, sparkling sweets in golden sugar coffins.”
I personally found the other queens a little lacking; this falls mostly to Mirabella, as I feel that Arsinoe could have really shone if Jules had just gone away for a few chapters. Don’t get me wrong, both of these queens certainly had their moments of harrowing plot and touching moments, but they can’t hold a candle to Katharine.
Wit and humour were speckled throughout the book skilfully and never felt forced. There were moments when I genuinely laughed out loud – and one of these moments was with Mirabella.
Now, there is a big twist in the novel, and I’ve read that some people picked up on this pretty early on and therefore it made the story a little predictable. I did not see it coming at all so I feel that I got the full effect that Kendare Blake was looking for her readers to get. I’m not sure if the people who figured the twist out early are Sherlock Holmes level plot-unwinders, or whether I was particularly dense during my time reading this, but I was pretty absorbed in the story, so we’ll go with the others being super sleuths instead!
All in all, Three Dark Crowns was not as dark as I would have liked it to be based on the premise of the story (but then again it’s written for YA not adults), and the blurb on the back is a little misleading as the death battle doesn’t happen until the end of the book and will lead into the sequel. But with that being said, I was completely hooked from start to finish, I’ve not been this excited for the next book in a series since Harry Potter and the wait for the sequel will be an agonising one!
“No queen leaves unless she is dispatched by her sister’s hand.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.