Author: Kendare Blake
Release Date: September 20th, 2016!
*I picked up a physical ARC of this from the HarperCollins booth at BEA.
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.
WHY COULDN’T I JUST HAVE WHAT I WANTED
WHY COULDN’T I JUST HAVE WHAT I WANTED
I’m so incredibly disappointed with this story that it’s not even funny. After reading and loving previous Kendare novels (Anna and Antigoddess), I really thought this wouldn’t be any different. And maybe it was my expectations, but I thought this could have been so much better than it was. I… liked it. Well, maybe like is a strong word, but I HAD enjoyed reading it for the most part. I just feel very MEH about it now, looking back on the story as a whole and with writing this review. Because all I can think about is WHAT IT COULD HAVE BEEN, and the picture in my mind does not match where the storyline went. I’ll try to review this one and pick a rating, but it’s going to be so hard. Because I’m at this point where I’m trying to separate what it was versus what I wanted it to be, and it’s not really fair to the book, but I CAN’T HELP IT. I think this was such a missed opportunity for girl power ruling all, and ugh. Let me separate the three ladies, and talk about them individually, and then altogether, so you guys can see where I’m at with this. And why I’m feeling like I wanted a different book completely.
We’ll start with Katharine, since she is the first Queen who appears in the book. It’s not that I didn’t like Katharine, but she was written so poorly and so weakly, that I couldn’t find it in me to care about her. Her time with the Arrons is understandably difficult. They’re a hard family, all concrete and no affection. They’ve raised her as what she is: one of the triplets who could one day become Queen. They don’t love her, and she knows that. She’s been poisoned all her life, tested and experimented on, told to “suck it up and push it down your throat or I’ll do it for you!” So I’m just wondering why Katharine’s portrayed as a weakling who can’t fight, instead of someone who could give Natalia a run for her money? And why did her strength and her will to do what is necessary to survive have to come in the form of a boy (who does not REALLY love her)? Her character could’ve been so much MORE than she was. But she didn’t grow; she didn’t push back. She let herself get stomped on constantly, and the worst part, is that she doesn’t even have the powers she’s meant to. The ending? Yes, that was great. I was all, “GO YOU, KATHARINE.” But that doesn’t change how she was portrayed as this naive and sickly girl for much of the book.
Let’s move onto Arsinoe, who I believe was the second Queen the readers meet. I liked her character! I definitely appreciated her more than I did Katharine. But again, she’s powerless. She can’t even wake a flower up from its slumber. Of course, once you finish the book, you realize WHY that’s true. Though, she has other strengths. She’s fierce, determined to succeed at whatever she does, and she has a good chance at killing her sisters and taking the crown. But her story was drowned out by Jules’ life. I didn’t quite get why Jules had more POV than Arsinoe, when she wasn’t one of the triplets. Isn’t Three Dark Crowns supposed to be about them? Not that I didn’t like Jules. But I wanted more of Arsinoe. I wanted more of her feelings regarding the Year of Ascension. It’s not focused on as much during the times spent in their part of the world of Fennbirn. Also when the suitor arrives (even though guys up for king-consorts aren’t allowed to visit the triplets until a certain festival), it seems to forget about everything. I am happy that Arsinoe’s story wasn’t reduced by the guy like Katharine’s, but there really just wasn’t much to her POV that didn’t revolve around Jules, Arsinoe’s lack of a naturalist gift, and the return of Joseph Sandrin.
Joseph Sandrin also plays a role in Mirabella’s story, believe it or not. I think I would’ve liked Mirabella as much as I did Arsinoe, if she’d had a semblance of a story. There wasn’t a lot to her, or to this supposed powerful gift of hers (except for one time, I don’t think she even PRACTICED her magic!). She’s an elemental, and is the champion of the Temple. The priestesses are not people to mess with, though, and they are as unforgiving as the Arrons are. But they raise Mirabella up as this savior, as this goddess, almost, but I don’t see it?? She really does nothing in this book except try to run away, break up Jules and Joseph (okay, like, it’s cool if you want to get some lovin’, ladies, but it felt super convenient for it to have been Arsinoe’s childhood friend and someone who is practically already married!), and figure out that she doesn’t want to play this game. There is a part of Mirabella’s POV that I wish had gotten more focus, and that was on her past with her sisters, when they lived together and loved each other and weren’t raised to kill one another. Mirabella clearly still loves Katharine and Arsinoe, but they have been separated so long, and have been taught this rigid tradition, that it had no play in this. And I wanted it to!
I think that was the most disappointing thing to me, that the girls didn’t fight back against this ages-old, bloody tradition. Perhaps in the sequel, they will become friends. Or perhaps they will actually try to kill each other. Who knows?! I want the former, honestly. I wanted the girls to strike back. I WANTED them to say “fuck it” and do what they wanted! And maybe they will in the sequel! I’m not certain about that, though, especially after this ending. But what I don’t get most of all is why Kendare made them all weak! She doused their stories in suitors and boy problems that the girls became pieces to be moved about a chessboard. But not only that, she made them physically weak. Neither Katharine nor Arsinoe have powers (and Mirabella is not even as strong in her elemental magic as they’ve told people), which is why the priestesses of the temple decided to turn this into a white-handed Queen throne and year, meaning that commoners could kill the weak queens so that the true one would rule. But that felt like suuuuch a cop-out. And an almost EASY way of bringing about conflict. Because, while you clearly know that a bloodbath is gonna occur at some point, this book was mostly all about the traditions leading up to when they actually HAVE to kill each other (which did feel natural for a first book, I’ll say at least).
The plot was pretty much just a setup for the sequel. It didn’t really stand on its own; it mostly moved the characters into position for the TRUE story to come out later on. Based on the ending, I don’t think the girls will become friends or disband this barbaric practice. I really wanted them to. Or at least, for this first book to bring them around to the idea of it. Maybe it’s not fair to the author or to this story to base it off of this picture I had in my head, but I just didn’t like the direction the storyline went! I really do believe that it could have been so much better. I didn’t end up loving ANY of the characters, and I thought the girls weren’t developed enough. This book could’ve been darker than it was too. I mean, there were definitely parts of it that made me go WHOA and think about how horrible it was for the girls to be faced with all of this. But I never felt intensity or that any of them would actually perish by the end. And I still stand by saying Three Dark Crowns could’ve turned into a girl power story. I would’ve been so much more impressed by it if it had. Sure, the story is ABOUT these three, powerful women, but it didn’t truly feel like that. I did appreciate the interesting island of Fennbirn, although I still wonder about its origins (since the modern world lays just beyond the fog). Anyway. Much disappointment and sadness for me after reading this book. I’m very curious to see what other people think!
I wrote this review a long time ago, so I'm updating with a final opinion: I didn't hate the book! There were things about it that I liked a lot, but there was just a whole lot more of whyyyy did Kendare choose to do this instead of that? while I was reading, and yeah. I'll be reading the sequel, of course, because I do think it'll be better. And that perhaps the author will give me what I'd been hoping for in this book (before I knew it was a series too, btw). A lot of people are LOVING this story, like my friend Shannon who is also reviewing it today. So I think I'm the oddball here anyway. :p