By: Kendare Blake
Book #1 / ? of the Three Dark Crowns series
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Summary: In 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 – and the last queen standing gets the crown.
“Every gift is light and dark.”
Review: This was a book that, from the beginning, really appealed to me. I loved the idea of three sisters warring for the same throne and each of them wielding different powers as weapons, but what I had imagined went far beyond what actually happened in the book. Blake has a lot of great ideas, but fails to fully portray them on page. I feel like there’s a lot of intricacies in the plot that I either missed or just simply weren’t mentioned. As much as I love “fantasy” books, that’s the wager I always make – whether or not the writer’s world-building skills will build up to their ideas. And for Blake, she fell pretty short. I always try to be a little more lenient when it’s the first book in the series, but a lot of the parts of the plot that I needed explained should have been lead up to or explained better retroactively. The number one thing I’m confused about is that they are often referred to as “twins” instead of triplets, and it is said more than once that Arsinoe and Mirabella were older while with Katharine was younger. Although it’s still possible that they are indeed triplets, just born minute apart, that isn’t how it reads, and it can get really confusing at times.
Another thing that doesn’t really work in Blake’s favor is how the book is actually set up. The chapters are all split up between tales of the three different sisters, who are in completely different areas with completely different surrounding characters and completely different plot lines. If the whole premise of this book wasn’t that they were sisters, I would wonder how they connected at all; as it was, I was wondering for most of the book why it was necessary for all the fluff that was the first half of the book. It didn’t really even act as backstory or development for any of the characters except maybe Jules, who isn’t even one of the three sisters. Despite the supposed “fluff” though, I don’t even really think that the dialogue or surrounding scenes were all that interesting; like I said above, it took me a solid 60% of the book before I got to a point where I was actually invested in what was going on.
As I mentioned above, I had a lot of difficulty connecting to the characters. Although at first Jules, Arsinoe’s foster sister of sorts, was the only character I really cared about and the one that I truly believed Blake gave the best development to throughout the book, I eventually grew to like Arsinoe as well – which, apparently, is an unpopular opinion. Arsinoe to me just seems like she would make the best queen of them all. She is independent but also knows when to trust those around her; she is not easily impressed by status and money and power; she is willing to do what should be done; and she seems to be the only one with a truly loyal group behind her. There’s a reason for that. Mirabella, although sweet, seems completely naive, and her power came so easily to her that she has not had to work for anything her entire life. Katharine seems too easily manipulated, just like the poisons she supposedly “controls”, and also rather naive herself – but she hardens thoroughly by the end of the book. To be honest, none of them really appeal to me; Arisone just seems to be the best out of a lot of horrible options, especially by the end of the book when she has been through hell and back and pops out on the other side, the same as (if not stronger than) she was before.
As for the side characters, I think a lot of them are ones that I would like to see a lot more about. Ultimately, it seems to me that Blake is trying hardcore to set up some sort of plot twist regarding Jules, Arisone’s best friend – and I’m all about it. She is strong, loyal, powerful, logical, and intelligent, if not a little too trusting at times. I love that she’s nothing at all like her mother, who seems like one of those crazy moms forever stuck in their teenage days; but I really want some additional backstory on Jules’ family, including the mysterious aunt they refer to several times in the book without ever getting into further detail. But the fun only begins there. Luca, the High Priestess and basically Mirabella’s keeper, as well as Natalia, Katharine’s keeper, are both characters that I basically want entire stories on – how they rose to power, how they hone their specific skillets to their wishes, and what they’ve seen in their lives as far as the previous queens are concerned. Blake does an incredible job with making the three girls’ childhoods very different in this way and who raised them, and it was very intentional and very well done. However, other side characters (cough cough, Joseph) were less than impressive. He was a despicable piece of trash, and the amount of times that Blake basically said “oh but that’s how all the boys in his family are” as if that excused his actions was incredibly annoying. Jules is pretty much my favorite character in the entire book, and she deserves so much better than a boy who can’t be loyal.
Ultimately, I think that the book would have been better if Blake had delved into deeper detail on somethings, and saved other plot points that I think will be more relevant later on for subsequent books rather than mentioning them ahead of their time. It just seemed unbalanced on what Blake did and did not provide ample detail on, and I feel like the book could have easily been bumped into a 4 or 4.5 if that had been done properly. At the end of the day, however, all that matters is I am definitely eagerly waiting the next installment in this series, even if it’s not going to be a duology and I won’t get my answers for quite a while now. I’m willing to stay with it for the long haul.