Kendare Blake has done it again. This is fantasy and horror at their best.
The island of Fennbirn eagerly awaits its next queen. The inhabitants have been ruled by the Black Council for the past 10 years, but the time is coming for the Queen to take her rightful place. But who will be Queen remains a mystery. For now.
Every royal generation starts as three. Triplets are born to the current Queen, who gives up her Crown and her children and disappears. The three girls possess magic and are equal heirs to the throne, fostered out from age 6 until the night they turn 16 years old. Then the fight begins. Will it be Katherine the poisoner, Arsinoe the naturalist, or Mirabella, controller of the elements? The young queens must fight each other in order to claim the crown. Only one can live.
Let me start by saying I AM SO HAPPY THERE WILL BE A SEQUEL! I will buy the hardcover and put it on my shelf next to this one and build a shrine to the series and look at them every day. (That’s normal, right?? Right. My precious…)
Fantasy requires extensive world building, and in Three Dark Crowns it is fabulous. Thankfully, the novel starts with a detailed map, something every fantasy should have on page one. Add in Blake’s descriptions and the island comes alive, immersing me in each village and manor and gathering place. I visited the forests of Wolf Spring, experienced storms over the cliffs of Rolanth, and watched the Black Council in action at Ingrid Down.
Katherine is the Heir Apparent. The last three generations of Queens have been poisoners. Poisoners are perfectly creepy. They wear only black and ooze attitude and superiority. They turn up their noses at untainted food and enjoy showing off their power by ingesting poisons in all their food and drink. Except Katherine’s gift doesn’t seem to have fully developed. Poison makes her ill. She is weak and thin, and the odds of her winning the Crown seem to slip away with each passing day. Her guardian, Natalia, will not let that happen. Her family has served the poisoner Queens for generations, and she will not let the line end with Katherine.
Arsinoe is the naturalist queen. Picture a hippie commune where everyone talks to animals and hugs trees. Arsinoe should be able to make fruit ripen and blooms grow and fish and game leap to her table. She should have a powerful animal familiar as her companion. Except she suffers from the same fate as her poisoner sister. Her gift has yet to appear. Her best friend Jules is the most powerful naturalist of her generation and strives to cover for Arsinoe’s weaknesses.
Mirabella has the strength that her two sisters lack. Elementalists are self-assured and have swagger. And Mirabella has power. She brings storms and controls fire and commands the waters and the earth. And she is beautiful. But she has her own weakness, one that would put her in danger if ever discovered. Mirabella alone of the three queens remembers their lives together, and misses their companionship. But the hopes of the elementals rest on her powerful shoulders and she cannot fail them.
There are love interests and consorts and backstabbing politics and wonderfully unexpected friendships. I am not usually the biggest fan of the love triangle, but this one added a whole new layer to the story. Giselle, Pietyr, Sara, Luca, Rho, Joseph, Billy, Bree, Elizabeth and so many more supporting characters add a myriad of relationships throughout, and make the Queens so much more real.
There are twists and turns in the story throughout. And while I loved the entire book, it does take some time to build the characters and relationships, so the pacing is much slower for the first half. It was the last few chapters that had me turning pages almost before I’d finished reading them. And the ending. Holy crap, the ENDING. I did NOT see any of it coming. What an epic cliffhanger!
If there is one weakness to the novel, it is that the histories of the Goddess and the Queens and the Island are hinted at, but not fully explained. I am hoping more is revealed in the second book.
Read this one. There is violence and gore, and some very PG-13 sex, but is still appropriate for the entire YA range.
Three Dark Crowns was published September 20th, 2016 by HarperTeen.