So, I totally edited this post, but then I went ahead and deleted it by accident because I am dumb. So below is my original unedited review. It’s not terrible, it just has four extra words and some different phrasing here and there. Since I have this preface, I’m sure you could tell that I’m too lazy to re-edit the thing. In any case, the review is below. Enjoy!
There was a lot of hype surrounding Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake and I feel like it’s mostly deserved. I’m reading the rest of the series, even if this first installment is not the absolute best read. First off – killer title. And a pretty killer premise.
Every generation on the island of Fennbirn there are triplets born to the ruling queen. These triplets are all Queens, equal in their claim to the throne and possessing magical powers. Katharine is a poisoner (able to ingest poisons without dying), Mirabella is the elemental (with powers over fire, wind, water, earth, and the combinations thereof such as storms and the like), and Arsinoe is the naturalist (control over animals and nature). After reaching the age of sixteen the Ascension Year begins and the queens must fight each other to the death. Last queen standing gets the crown.
The first two thirds of the book drag on a bit and are a bit confusing, spending a lot of time establishing the world and characters as we spend time with each queen and the important people in their lives. One noteworthy thing about this buildup though is that one of the queens doesn’t get as much narrative time as the others, which is a shame because it sort of gives away the nature of the twist ending. Not the twist itself, mind you, which I actually really liked, but what that twist meant for that queen’s character arc. Ultimately, this didn’t quite land for me because not only was she my least favorite queen, but it felt like she was the story’s least favorite queen as well, which made the twist less surprising and meaningful.
This brings me to the larger problem with the character development in this book. We spend time with each queen and each narrative piece represents a time jump which results in the character development feeling choppy and too quick. I did end up having favorites, but I’m not sure if it’s because of their characterization or because of how fluid the character development was for certain of these characters. We also only get glimpses of the world through these narrative pieces, yet I still wanted to know more. From what we’ve seen, I like it, but it didn’t feel like enough. While I felt like the characters were well established, I still felt like I didn’t know the world as well as I should have considering how much time we spent with the characters before any of the action started.
This book has some romance in it as well and while I usually LOVE love, here it felt shoehorned in. Maybe it’s the love triangle that came out of nowhere and goes nowhere and results in dumb decisions. I get that these are teenagers that we’re dealing with here, but we also have a potential element of magical coercion which gets pretty icky. It sort of seems to excuse cheating, but we’re still somehow supposed to be okay with any part of the triangle? And not only does it excise cheating, the characters involved excuse it, which stretches my credibility. Teenagers in the real world might engage in such behavior but it seems like to me these teenagers have a lot to deal with and wouldn’t put up with such dramatic nonsense. Which again, makes the magical coercion seem like it comes into play, which makes the whole thing something I could have completely done without.
I may seem rather critical of the book, but I think the main point is that it got me thinking, not only about the story and characters, which overall were really enjoyable, but about story structure as well (which my attempts at a writing career really appreciate). I loved the world, what we saw of it and it made me think of some pretty cool and sinister theories. I cared about the characters and about what happened to them. I loved the twist ending. I highly recommend Three Dark Crowns. It might stumble as the first installment, but the sequel is definitely worth the effort.