Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Published: September 2016 by Macmillan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: ♥ ♥ 1/2
This was my first Kendare Blake book (*gasp* and I call myself a YA book blogger). I’ve never gotten around to reading Anna Dressed in Blood and tbh it’s never really appealed because ghosts, horror and paranormal which aren’t my favourite genre in the world. Buuut I thought I’d take the plunge with this pure fantasy offering 🙂
Three sisters, triplets, queens: Mirabella, the elemental, Arsinoe, the naturalist, and Katharine, the poisoner, are bred by their guardians to compete for the Fennbirn crown. In their 16th year they will take part in a life or death battle, using their gifts to outwit their sisters, to claim the throne by being the last one standing. Except this generation things aren’t proving quite so straightforward. Arsinoe and Katharine’s gifts are weak whilst Mirabella is the only one showing signs of power that has people convinced she will triumph. As they and their guardians fight to cheat, trick and betray their way to the crown, the girls are tested and find the darkness in them brought to the fore…
I was hoping for great things with Three Dark Crowns. First of all, although it’s got a bit of a Hunger Games premise about it (the whole to the death competition thing) I liked that it had a “purpose”, that they weren’t randomers just thrown together by a cruel government. These girls have been bred to compete for the crown and murdering their sisters to get it was par for the course. It was interesting to see how their separate upbringings had shaped their personalities and how far they had been indoctrinated to believe that either they killed their sisters or died trying. The wider political friction between the Black Council and the Temple was intriguing but I would’ve liked to understand more about how it all came about.
And that leads me to what the biggest letdown was for me – the world building, or lack of. There were so many different rituals, the Gave Noir, Beltane, the Hunt, the Quickening to name a few and some of the names were really ambiguous that by the time they were mentioned a second or third time, I’d forgotten what they were, where they came in the sequence of the Ascension Year, their significance etc. and it jarred the reading for me having to pause and remember. It also felt like a lot of context was skimmed over – why the animosity and friction between the Temple and the Black Council since they all believe in the Goddess? Why are King Consorts so important, what do they do? Hell, what does a Queen do once she’s crowned? I can’t for the life of me tell you what happens to the Queen in the 16 years between the birth of the triplets and the Ascension Year. The twist at the end also wasn’t so much a twist for me as a facepalm moment, and again it feels due to a lack of world building.
The characters weren’t the most memorable I’ve come across and there were quite a few to keep track of. I just feel like a lot of info was held back purely because Three Dark Crowns is the first in a trilogy and this also meant the pacing was rather slow. For pages and pages, we essentially watched as the girls learned and learned and learned some more how to use their gifts (or not so much in Arsinoe’s and Katharine’s case) and it did make me wonder what they’ve been doing for the past ten years that they haven’t really grasped the fact that neither are gifted and should have made contingency plans waaaay sooner. So as this plot was crawling along, the subplot of romance was given more airtime than I think we needed in this book.
The romance was a little miss for me. Reading Three Dark Crowns I actually felt like I was reading a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We had plenty of potential couples, but then we saw them running around with other characters because of various reasons such as curses and duty and it all was just rather messy. Hell, even the parents were in on it – was it just me who found the whole Madrigal (Jules’ mother) going off with Matthew (Jules’ bf’s brother) very weird? Like if Jules was to marry her boyfriend, Joseph, whilst her mum was dating Joseph’s brother, wouldn’t that just be a really awkward situation??? Anyway, I wasn’t sold on any of the ships – most of them seemed quite passive and I couldn’t really feel/sense the attraction between a character and their love interest.
I really wanted to like this but I’ve rated Three Dark Crowns 2.5 stars – the premise was interesting enough that it did keep me reading and was original. I liked that the plot doesn’t rely on some epic romantic arcs for our protagonists to have agency, at least in this book, and that it was more about 3 sisters dealing with their difficult predicament (kinda has a girl/sister power Frozen vibe about it!) However, I’m still on the fence about whether I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the next installment…
Have you read Three Dark Crowns and have drastically different views? Let me know, I’m always intrigued when I’m in the minority with views on a book 😀