Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeThree Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
Series: Three Dark Crowns #1
Published by HarperTeen on September 20, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Adventure, Romance
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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three-stars

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.

Kendare Blake’s one of those authors I always think I like more than I actually do. Does this happen to anyone else? I get super excited for her new books, and then I read them and remember that I’ve actually never loved any of her books. I’ve read most of her books, though I never finished the Goddess War trilogy because I couldn’t remember ANYTHING (which is extreme even for me) about the series by the time book three came out. Consistent with my prior experiences with Blake, Three Dark Crowns has strong world building and plotting but weak characterization and romance.

Three Dark Crowns turned out to be a major struggle for me. Partly that’s my fault, since I started it almost a month before I finished it, picking up my eARC when I didn’t have any print books and then abandoning it for several weeks. I’d been really into it, but, by the time I got back in, I’d lost my momentum. That’s on me. Still, it didn’t help that the romance kicked off where I’d left off, and the romance is just not well done. Man, I hope these ships aren’t endgame.

The island of Fennbirn has an interesting method of choosing their rulers. The current queen, through some magic from the goddess, gives birth to triplets, all dark-haired. One is a poisoner, one a naturalist, and one an elemental. They are raised by their people and then, when they come of age, they fight to the death for the crown, though they have a year to do it however they like—it’s not a Hunger Games style brawl.

This queendom is mad fucked up and brutal. The book opens with Katherine, the poisoner Queen-hopeful. She, unfortunately, does not have the Poisoner gift, so she’s spent her whole life getting poisoned as they try to up her tolerance. So basically she’s always sick and sore and injured. On her birthday, they through her a fancy ass party and serve her a bunch of poisoned food. Starting with Katherine was such an excellent choice, because the Poisoners are the most fucked up of the groups of gifted people. I’m a bit skeptical of why anyone would want to live there but hey whatever it’s dark and creepy and awesome.

The Naturalists have powers related to animals and nature. Strong enough Naturalists have familiars, aka animal friends who will take down their enemies. Queen-hopeful Arsinoe also doesn’t have the gift. Unlike Katherine, though, she at least has friends. Of course, her bestie Jules is the most powerful Naturalist in ages, so that kind of sucks but at least she’s got that support.

Elemental Queen hopeful, Mirabella, does have the gift. She’s super fucking powerful and basically a shoo-in to be the next Queen. There are all sorts of political machinations going on as they scary priestesses plot to take control over from the Poisoners (who have had the last few queens). Meanwhile Mirabella’s not got the stomach to kill her sisters. She’s the soft one, powerful as she is, and she wants them all to skip around and collect flowers (okay maybe I’m exaggerating a little).

I love, I truly do, that this book totally flips fantasy casting on its head, much like Queen of Blood, another female-centric fantasy. Every really strong character in Three Dark Crowns is female. Most of the men who show up in the book are around solely to be love interests to the male characters. This happens ALL THE TIME to female characters in fantasy, so that was super great. I do think there are too many characters, and a lot of those are guys who do nothing that’s plot relevant.

However, much as I love that the most important male characters are just love interests, I do not actually like them as love interests for the most part. The romance in Three Dark Crowns does not work. I’m hoping Blake didn’t want it to work, because yikes. Joseph Sandrin’s by far the worst part of the book, both because his two ships both don’t work but because to make them happen the plotting gets super sloppy. View Spoiler » I’m semi-convinced that he’s Finn from The 100 tbh. All of the women in this book are way too awesome to touch him. Katherine and Pietyr have a problematic but interesting dynamic. Meanwhile Arsinoe and Billy are very sweet in a platonic way but have less passion than I do for salad.

These Dark Crowns would be approximately 300% percent better if it were queer as fuck. This world has badass murder queens in a matriarchal society. Have you ever heard of a setting/plot more in need of some hot f/f action? Then factor in the fact that basically all of the male characters are thoroughly useless and awful. Much as I love almost all of the plotting and the world building, it’s such a loss that this culture remains heteronormative (to the degree that there’s no reference to any other sort of sexuality). That said, and despite Blake’s answer on Goodreads to a question about romance that there are “lots of prospects for future kings”, I’m going to stubbornly hope that this series takes an f/f turn. Especially since the women generally seem to connect much more strongly with other female characters, and the m/f relationships are a mess. Both Katherine and Arsinoe have ships with some amount of potential with some strong character arc/relationship building, but Mirabella totally needs a girlfriend View Spoiler ».

I got super duper bored and frustrated in the middle, because tbh it constantly feels like the girls want to kiss other girls but then they kiss stupid asshole undeserving boys instead. However, the ending was awesome, switching from tepid/terrible romance back to badass murderqueen plotting, so Blake caught me again and I’ll definitely be reading book two.

Favorite Quote:

View Spoiler »

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

gif-walk-and-think-murder

One response to “Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake”

  1. […] Reader of Fictions was not particularly impressed with it, lamenting that she always seems to like the ideas of Blake’s stories more than the execution. […]

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