Fantasy fiction book review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

There are two reasons for me to write a book review: either I love it or hate it. The ones in between…meh who cares? Kidding. Three Dark Crowns was on my reading list for quite some time for the sole reason of it being a fantasy fiction. Even before I read it, I knew I was going to write a book review of it. It contradicts my earlier statement but sometimes you get that feeling right, where you just know that something has to be done. Anyway, last week, finally I picked it off my shelf, dusted it and read it. Now here I am, writing its review. 

Also read: The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella – review

I’ll be honest, it didn’t keep me hooked but I didn’t want it to join the sad little pile of books that I have left unread because it wasn’t so bad.

Here’s what the blurb says:

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In 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.


Plot

There is no denying that the premise of Three Dark Crowns is interesting. It’s a fantasy world that revolves around three princesses Mirabella, Katherine and Arsinoe; sisters separated at birth to be fostered by different families. Each of them possesses different powers. Exciting!

Each princess faces her challenges on the journey to become queen. They not only struggle with their powers but also with their identity. The sole purpose of their foster families is to raise them to become a queen. Their alternate fate is to die. Political interests are also at stake and therefore each family is fighting tooth and nail to grab the power that comes with being associated with the queen. So the princesses themselves don’t have much say in their own lives.

Pace

The book is not as full of action as you would think. For fantasy fiction, the book is quite slow and at a lot of points it gets boring.

Maybe it’s because the author has focused a LOT on intra-personal conflict, trying to bring out the complexity of the plot and characters but the plan backfired. The characters come across as two-dimensional at times, but I’ll reserve comment on this for later.

Characters and Growth

All three of the sisters go through a lot as the story progresses but it doesn’t result in much character development. Out of the three, Katherine had the most growth but just when she starts to become interesting, her chapters become rare and most of the ones we do get were from Natalie’s point of view.

Which brings me to another point: there are too many supporting characters! And a lot of times their story lines overshadowed the plots of the three main characters: Mirabella, Katherine and Arsinoe.

Mirabella’s story gets interesting at one point too when she tries to take matters in her own hands but it is cut short soon after when supporting characters take over. From then on, it’s all about the temple. Mirabella can be a puppet for all the attention she gets both from the characters around her and for the author.

Arsinoe, I felt was a character wasted. She was the only one that intrigued me most and had so much potential but the author didn’t explore it at all.  Out of the three sisters, she was the only one with a wild side and a will of her own. She alone tries to discover herself instead of being led by others. Arsinoe is, unlike Katherine and Mirabella, a fully fleshed out character whose chapters were brutally devoted to other characters. 

So it is a real pity that most of her chapters were devoted to Jules and Joseph, whose relationship seemed pretty irrelevant to the story, unless it will play some part in the sequel. For someone reading Three Dark Crowns, however, the details of their dysfunctional relationship really doesn’t make sense or matter.

Politics and Romance

Another peeve that I had with the story was romance. Where there should have drama filled with politics and power struggle, couples were making out and breaking up. The story revolves around a kingdom, fighting for a worthy queen, that is what should be at the centre of it, not overflowing romance.

World Building

The readers were also deprived of the history of the world they were dragged into. The background of Fennbirn was hardly skimmed through. All we know about the kingdom is that triplets are born every generation and one of them kills the other two to become queen. Apparently there are no male kids. Throughout the book, there is no mention of the King or Queen so we don’t even know how they run the kingdom.

Does it get interesting?

The last quarter of the book is where the story picks up momentum, when all the characters come together at the much-hyped Beltane festival. That is where Blake’s story telling ability really come into play. There is chaos and intrigue as each character tries to face their inner demons while combatting external conflicts but she has successfully managed to hold the narrative together and keep it coherent.

Is Three Dark Crowns worth a read?

After all the apparent ‘bashing’ in this book’s review, you are probably writing it off your reading list. But I’d say give it a try. Even with all its drawbacks, the plot is pretty interesting and considering this is the first book of the series, there is a decent chance of things spicing up in future. Like I said earlier, there is less political drama, but that has left room for the author to explore relationships between characters. The only problem is the one I’ve mentioned earlier: the three main characters are not the focus of this book.

Will I read the sequel? 

The ability to portray so much confusion and power struggle (even if it came a bit late) with such composure alone would have convinced me to give the sequel a chance. Any lingering doubts were blasted away by the twist at the ending. Though clever hints were dropped here and there, and you can call me ignorant for not paying attention, but it blew my mind. 

I hope the sequel is more fast-paced and focuses more on the main characters and the external challenges they face. Please reward me for my patience and faith!

Rating: 2.5/5

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