Before I say anything else, let me say this: if you started reading Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake and put it down before finishing, pick it back up. It will be worth it.
Three Dark Crowns is a dark, Game of Thrones-esque tale of the Island of Fennbirn and its triplet queens, who in every generation must fight to the death to determine the Queen Crowned. Each sister represents a traditional family on Fennbirn as well as a category of magic: Mirabella is an elementalist, Katharine a poisoner, and Arsinoe a naturalist. The story follows the perspectives not only of the triplets destined to kill each other, but also several of their followers and companions, who all have a stake in their queen winning.
Three Dark Crowns caught my interest the moment I first picked it off a shelf, and it instantly earned a place on my book wish list. However, when I started reading, the excitement wore off. I wasn't prepared for the many POVs, the triplet queens seemed nowhere near as impressive as their descriptions on the book jacket. Despite the detailed worldbuilding, I couldn't attach myself to the story.
Thankfully, I kept reading. I let go of the story I expected to read and adjusted to the story Kendare Blake wished to tell. Not only does Blake build an interesting and believable world, but she creates an atmosphere that sets this world apart from others and sucked me in the further and further I read. Plotting families willing to do whatever it takes to crown their queen, unpredictable magic, an island seemingly alive and unwilling to let the queens go, queens who do not live up to expectations and another who has no desire to kill her sisters--all of these factors combine to form an intriguing setting with provocative characters.
The atmosphere of Three Dark Crowns truly makes the story and builds the conflict. Blake manages to construct this atmosphere while revealing new character aspects, foreshadowing future incidents, and breathing life into a twisted world. This off-putting yet addictive atmosphere primarily arises from the characters scheming to assist the queens, the various systems of magic, and the Island of Fennbirn itself.
Although I did not expect the plethora of characters involved in Three Dark Crowns, their varying personalities and methods of scheming add a dark twist to the story. Madrigal never fit her role as a mother, but delves into low magic to assist Arsinoe, and through her, Jules. High Priestess Luca comes across as a gentle, grandmother figure to Mirabella, yet agrees with Rho's plan to tear Arisnoe and Katharine apart in order to make Mirabella a White-Handed Queen. Cold Natalia will poison anyone in her path, but the subtle hints of her motherly love for Katharine define her.
"Arsinoe never thinks of Madrigal as beautiful, though many, many people do. "Beautiful" is too gentle a word for what she is."--Kendare Blake, Three Dark Crowns pg. 80
The various groups of magic add further depth and intrigue to these characters, and the interests of the queens. Beyond the three primary categories--elementalists, poisoners, and naturalists--the war gift is powerful yet fading and the oracle gift supposedly turns queens insane. Among all of these powers, even the ungifted can perform low magic, but beyond the blood given to empower it, it often involves a greater sacrifice.
"Now that the magic is made, it feels wrong. A crooked thing, twisted through with good intentions. She does not know why she did it. She has no excuse, except that it was easy, and nothing has ever come easily to her before."--Kendare Blake, Three Dark Crowns pg. 85
Blake weaves the same twisted nature of Three Dark Crown's characters and magic into the Island of Fennbirn itself. Throughout the story, the island seems more and more alive, and it wants its queens too much to let them go. The mist surrounding the island captures Arsinoe during multiple attempts to escape, and the Breccia Domain holds the bodies of dead queens and calls to Katharine when she first glimpses it. The life of Fennbirn makes the entire story feel more alive because the characters themselves are not the only entities with something to gain or lose.
"The Breccia Domain feels. The Breccia Domain is, in that way that so many other sacred places on Fennbirn are, but the Domain is where all those other places connect. It is the source. Had Katharine been raised in the temples like Mirabella, she might have better words for the hum in the air and how it makes the back of her neck prickle . . .
Three Dark Crowns drew me in, and its sequel One Dark Throne left me speechless. Kendare Blake creates a living world with multi-faceted characters that are impossible to root entirely for or against. I completely recommend adding it to your TBR shelf. Head to your local bookseller or library, or find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other online booksellers. Also check out Kendare Blake's website for more information on her and her other work.
What are your thoughts? If you've read Three Dark Crowns, how did it come across to you?
I write YA fantasy and contemporary fiction. This blog is dedicated to thoughts and advice on writing and publishing, as well as various interests related to the world of Young Adult.