By: Kendare Blake
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Series: Three Dark Crowns #1
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake is a book I’ve heard a lot about. Many bloggers and booktubers have already talked about it, usually with glowing reviews. The local library normally has it on proud display when it isn’t checked out by a patron. I picked this book up out of curiosity. I could get behind a dark tale of three sisters vying to be queen, each dead set to murder the other one.
Only problem is, that isn’t what I got at all.
In Three Dark Crowns the land of Fennbirn is ruled by a queen. Each queen gives birth to triplets, three girls who possess different magical abilities the most common of which are power over the elements, power over nature, and the ability to create and ingest any poison. The night they turn sixteen marks the beginning of the battle to be queen. Only one sister will emerge victorious, and only after the other two are dead.
From the synopsis I expected this to be a very dark tale of murder, magic, and intrigue. However, that is definitely not what I received.
First, the simple things.
The story is told in the third person, switching from one sister to another on a chapter by chapter basis. The prose is quite lovely; I like Blake’s writing style. The use of present tense adds an element of immediacy to the story. The danger to the sisters feels real and palpable.
Three Dark Crowns is the first book of a series bearing the same title as the first installment. I was unaware of this upon first picking up this book as there is no indication on the front cover or title page that this is the beginning of a series. This is fine, of course. It is listed on the Goodreads page. I only wish the synopsis on the dust jacket read more as a synopsis of this particular installment rather than an overview of the series at large.
The actual fight to be queen doesn’t occur in this book. There is a lot of talk about the upcoming fight the girls will have to endure. We meet the women who have been training them in magic since they were separated from one another at six years old. But we don’t actually see them fight one another. Not really.
So what actually happens in the novel if there isn’t any fighting?
Well, there is the expected readying for the fighting, of course. The three sisters – Katherine, Arsinoe, and Mirabella – go through an understandable amount of angst at the prospect of fighting their sisters and even more so at the prospect of their possible deaths. Two of them will die, a fact that cannot be ignored. A lot of time was also dedicated to romance. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. These are characters with lives and feelings who are vying to be queen. It makes sense that noble families want their sons to formally present themselves and begin courting the girls for a chance to become king.
I do have issues with the wholly unnecessary and honestly rather questionable love triangle. I really didn’t find myself caring about the love lives of these or other secondary characters, of which there was quite a bit. However, romance and love triangles is not why I picked up the book. Nothing about romance is mentioned in the synopsis at all, something I find questionable when so much of the story is dedicated to this as mentioning so would have attracted more numerous and appropriate readers. I expected a dark world with magical battles between sisters who are trying to be queen, not love triangles.
Speaking of a dark world and magical battles, the setting of Three Dark Crowns did had some unique features. I really liked the use of a matriarchy with a ruling queen and the constant birth of daughters who vied for the throne. This is different than what is found in many other fantasy series, young adult or otherwise, and was a refreshing change of page. I also liked the use of magic within the story. Not only are there many different types of magic, but their users belong to separate and opposing factions with their own personal and political goals. Besides that, it was interesting that magic was only prevalent within the ruling family and on the islands where the girls were raised while none, or almost none, was found on the mainland itself.
There were some questions I did have concerning this matriarchy, though. For instance, why would the previous queen accept simply stepping down from the thrown once her children were born and leaving the country presumably forevermore? I understand that this is tradition, but people do not easily give up things such and wealth, power, and influence. Moreover, who is running the country between the time of the departure of the last queen and the coronation of the next? I assume this is the council, but I still found myself curious as to the more intricate details of the world which were largely left unstated. The next installment may clear up these and other questions I have, but I did feel that the lack of certain information and the reasoning behind certain decisions only served to confuse the reader and not draw them further into the tale.
The biggest problem I had with this book was lack of any sort of connection to the characters. This is probably due in large part to the fact that the three sisters have no personality to speak of. Katherine, the Poisoner, likes her pet snake and wishes she had any talent to speak of. Arsinoe just wants her friends Jules and Joseph to have the happily ever after she believes they deserve and wants to finally gain a familiar as a Naturalist. And Mirabella, the Elementalist, only wants to be friends with her sisters again, not fight this war against them. And that’s about the extent of their personalities and desires. Another thing as far as the sisters go – I’m not convinced that they’ve been taught nearly enough to be any good as a queen. Now, I’m not talking about their magical abilities, raw talent or not aside. There are many other things that go into being a queen, or any leader for that matter. Nowhere is it stated or insinuated that any of these women were taught things like politics, diplomacy, economics, history, war tactics, language, or anything else needed to be even a half effective leader of the people. Arsinoe grew up in a small village. I’m not convinced she even went to a proper school or had access to the sort of tutors Katherine or Mirabella would have access to.
This leads to an enormous missed opportunity and some very real problems with female characters. With the plot line and worldbuilding there was a great opportunity for a story filled with powerful women and strong bonds between sisters, mentor and student, friends, etc. However, this wasn’t the case. Many of the female characters were weak or treated as weak. Now, I’m talking about Katherine and Arsinoe’s magical abilities being so far below Mirabella’s. Some of the strongest characters within the story are treated as weak. Take Jules for example. She is mentioned numerous times as being one of the most powerful Naturalists seen in many years, centuries perhaps. So why is Arsinoe so dead set on wanting Joseph to get his act together and take care of her and protect her as he should. A character like that shouldn’t need protecting. As strong as Jules is, it is constantly undermined by thoughts and actions such as this. Not only is this disappointing, it is also problematic in many ways.
Overall, this novel disappointed me. While it had a good premise, it simply failed to follow through. What could have been a very dark tale had no murder or mayhem or war in it almost at all. On the opposite hand, what could have been a tale about friendship and the bonds (or lack thereof) between sisters was also inexpertly handled. However, the fantasy world within the story had several interesting features and premise which, I hope, with be explored with much more depth with the next novel.
If you like young adult novels, particularly those that features a good amount of romance with a dash of fantasy, you may want to pick up Three Dark Crowns. If you like more heavily detailed world building in your fantasy novels then this book might not be for you.
You like YA with a good deal of romance; You like dark premise to novels without content getting too dark or too gorey
Don't Read If:
You like highly detailed worldbuilding in fantasy novels; You do not like points of view from multiple characters; You don't like novels with tons of characters