One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake Book Review

About four years ago, I picked up the first Three Dark Crowns and finished it exhausted and frustrated. I gave it a generous single one-star rating. When you advertise your book as a Hunger-Games fight to the death and spend 80% of it going over the lives of the competitors, their lovers, and the lovers of their cousins, it’s false marketing. The book depended on us falling in love with all the unmemorable and even undifferentiated characters across the different lives of the three queens, and investing in their relationships enough to press on in the series in spite of not delivering what it promised…and it didn’t cast me under its spell. I moved onto a different book, and gladly forgot about all Kendare Blake worked on to teach me about the world of Fennbirn.

But for years I’ve considered picking the next book up and pressing on, because Three Dark Crowns also seemed to be saving all of its good cards for down the road in the next instalments, and the actual three queens, Arsinoe, Mirabella and Katharine were admittedly characters I have wanted to really see rumble. Even if I hated the first book, it admittedly worked better than most other books I’ve disliked at keeping me interested in what would happen next.

And so, perhaps inevitably, I finally gave in to my curiosity and picked One Dark Throne up. And I’m happy to say it surpassed what I was hoping for and renewed my interest in the series. In fact, what I recommend to you if you’re unfamiliar to the series is just read a description of the first book and go to this one.

So, in the tradition of Fennbirn, the king and queen must give birth to triplets. Three girls. And they’d have to be separated to be raised in different parts of the land to develop their different gifts and eventually kill each other. And they have one of five different gifts. Arsinoe is a naturalist, being able to command animals to do her bidding and control and grow plants. Or at least, that’s what Arsinoe was supposed to be able to do, but her powers never properly developed, and we learned she actually has the gift of a poisoner, just like her sister Katharine, who has the ability to ingest and withstand poison. In fact, the best poisoners see poison as more like a spice or sweetener for their food. Because of the existence and political power of poisoners, outsiders never eat food from untrusted and unsecured sources. And then there’s Mirabella, the elemental, who can commandeer water, fire, lightning, air and earth, and other things to boot.

There was a festival at the very end of the last book where Arsinoe had a plan to disguise her incompetence as a naturalist, and it ended with her realizing her true gift and an actual live huge bear terrorizing the whole get-together. Now the fight is truly on, and no one is certain who the winner will be anymore. And in this tale, the arena is the entire island of Fennbirn. Nowhere is safe for the three queens or anyone affiliated with them.

The action doesn’t begin immediately, but you don’t have to wait too long before two of the queens confront each other and start fighting. This isn’t a book that builds up everything for a big finale, although there is one you’ll come across at the end that I won’t spoil. I relearned characters and which ones knew which of the three best. Some of them I still don’t know much of anything about, but maybe now I’ll finally be invested. The previous book was at its best when someone was in desperate need of an antidote from a poison trap. I forget who or where but one involved a dismemberment, and this one has one too. A character loses an entire hand because of putting on a glove of all things that’s tampered with poison. And one of the queens ends up becoming quite psychopathic and it chilled me.

This book consists of several fights and emergencies to try and treat wounds, yet it still has kind of a slow pace as it bounces between the points of view of major, supporting and minor characters. I’m not really sure if impatient readers will be willing to give this book as high a grade as I gave. And yet what the characters were plotting, attempting and enduring was intriguing enough that for the most part I didn’t mind the slow pace and got a lot more involved with Kendare Blake’s inventive writing style, so I have a suspicion impatient readers just might bear it to enjoy the ride. It’s funny how one piece of the puzzle can really make a difference. If the prior instalment focused on its action like this, I would have probably given it the same grade here.

The ending was tremendous, and I won’t say anything that will give it away. Only that it feels like the end of a journey for all the characters who survive, and whatever’s next will forever be defined as after this. But I still have the rest of the series to go, and now Two Dark Reigns and Five Dark Fates are high on my TBR.

If you like this, I’d try Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Hunger Games, and the Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans

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