Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake Review

I’ve been wanting to start this series for literally two years. I once saw this book displayed at the very top of a ten-foot shelf at a bookstore somewhere while on vacation. I said in my review of “Long May She Reign” that HarperTeen, which published that book and this one, make the best covers and this is another one. Each of these crowns look like they were worn by a god. But unlike that last book, this one seems that it only got published because the author was known for Anna Dressed in Blood and the Hunger-Games-esque premise.

Arsinoe, Mirabella, and Katharine. Three triplets who haven’t seen each other for ten years, when they were six and forcefully separated. You see, once a generation, on the island of Fennbirn, three kids are supposed to be born together, each possessing a different ability so they can fight for not just the environment supporting their gift but their lives and the throne. Two to devour and one to be queen. The last generation that won was the poisoners, which is Katharine’s environment. Poisoners are not actually poisoned when they eat or drink the poison they make. To them, it is more like salt, or vodka, or melted better. Arsinoe is a naturalist. Her ability is to be able to tame fierce creatures to do her bidding and help plantlife bloom…except she’s not really good at any of it. But despite the fact Katharine is in the dominated field, Mirabella is seen as the to-be queen. She is an elemental, able to work the four elements to her will and cause thunder.

The best thing I should point out is Blake accomplishes something challenging and different. All three of the universes these girls have grown up in are different, yet on the same big island of Fennbirn, and she does a good job of giving each environment a feel of independence and systems they thrive by on their own. A wrinkle this causes is an overabundance of side characters Blake seems to think are more important than we do. It takes a very long time to memorize who is actually on which end of the spectrum of points of view. Natalia. That’s a familiar name. Who’s she in again? And, hmm, Bree? Um…Well, I guess I remember Jules and Joseph are with Arsinoe…and, um, Madrigal…Wait, who’s Genevieve again? The first chapters are good, especially Katharine’s very rough ralphing of a dozen poisoned dinners, but there are also explosions of people we don’t know or care about. There are at first one or two side characters per princess where you can remember their allegiance, but every name and affiliation you have to get to follow the book makes it so I doubt Three Dark Crowns would interest anyone who doesn’t have patience and an acceptance to look back and try to digest.

I also just did not buy how unprepared these three girls were. Usually, training montages turn me off in books. It feels like struggling to open a jar of strawberry jam, nothing exciting coming out of it because it’s just work and you know what’s supposed to come out of it. But I wished there were way more training scenes than there are. The girls treat their training like an aerobics exercise they quit a while back to focus on their work and are trying to get back into once or twice a week. And even if the ending picks up, it still stalls to the point of feeling like the actual book is mocking us, and there’s a big blowout…that’s caused by something unrealistic, laughable and downright lame. There’s a character who cheats on his girlfriend, and there’s suggestion he was hypnotized by a magic spell, but this is never actually made clear.

The covers are all still magnificent, and maybe I’ll see if I like One Dark Throne more. Also, for helping a character try to escape the wrath of the Gave Noir, her hand is cut right off. We don’t read it happening but when I realized it, I squirmed pretty bad. Maybe Three Dark Crowns would’ve been better if its promises were kept better. But whereas the cover, which deserves to be in an exhibit, brought my expectations up mightily high, the interior poisoned my expectations for the rest of the books. Three Dark Crowns promises big, strange enchantment as we explore the universes of these characters until it just doesn’t, and the result is horrifyingly disappointing.

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