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Review: Three Dark Crowns (Blake)

I have been so excited to read Three Dark Crowns! The Shanghai Librarians Network is sponsoring our first-ever High School Battle of the Books this year (yay!), and this book is on the reading list. I booktalked this with some library classes, and the students have responded enthusiastically. I just got four copies in the library last week, and they are already checked out (including one to me–sorry, guys!).

I am sad to say that this book has highs and lows, but overall, it was just okay for me. Three Dark Crowns has some awesomeness, but sadly, there are several things that bothered me about it.
I am sad to say that this book has highs and lows, but overall, it was just okay for me. Three Dark Crowns has some awesomeness, but sadly, there are several things that bothered me about it.

AUTHOR: Kendare Blake
SERIES: Three Dark Crowns, book 1
PUBLISHER: HarperTeen
PUBLICATION DATE: Sept. 20, 2016
ISBN: 9780062385437
PAGES: 398
SOURCE: My school library
GENRE: fantasy, magic
SETTING: Island of Fennbirn, time period indeterminate (feels medieval)
GIVE IT TO: HS

SUMMARY: Every generation, one set of triplet girls is born. All three have magical powers. Katharine, a poisoner. Arsinoe, a naturalist. And Mirabella, an elemental. When the sisters reach their sixteenth birthday, they have one year to kill one another. The last one alive will become the ruling Queen until the process starts again when the next set of triplets comes of age.

WHAT I LIKED: The premise. It’s the best part of the book. Oh, and Katharine’s chapters.

The rich worldbuilding. This story takes its time creating a believable world where triplet queens are destined to kill one another. It’s incredibly complex, and I give huge props to Kendare Blake for creating it.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: There are like 287 characters in this story. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I had to work hard to keep up with them all. There are three princesses, and each has her own story, friends, suitors, guardians, and servants. And many of those people also have their own stories and families and abilities. Aside from the three queens, there are about 30 additional characters and animal familiars to keep track of. The reader will have to remember who has what powers and what role that person plays in which queen’s story. And there is loads of history and backstory about the island, the Black Council, the families, the “Mainland,” and the previous queens. It’s a lot, even for seasoned readers who love intricate world-building.

Arsinoe’s best friend Jules. At one point, Arsinoe says they should dye Jules’ hair black and make her the queen, and I found myself wishing they would do just that. Arsinoe’s story isn’t Arsinoe’s; it is Jules’. And her ridiculous boyfriend Joseph who is just gross.

Joseph. Am I supposed to feel sympathy for this person? He is presented as a sympathetic character, a good guy helping his best friend Arsinoe. SPOILER AHEAD–highlight to see–> But I about threw up when Jules apologizes to him for “wasting so much time” in refusing to speak to him (which was only a few days after he cheated on her with a complete stranger because he was “delirious”). She’s apologizing to him because…he cheated and she was angry and hurt? PUH-LEEZ. What a terrible message for our young ladies.

Animal cruelty that makes zero sense in the story. Why are Naturalists, who have animal familiars, so keen on hunting and eating animals? They can literally make plants grow in their hands, so clearly, animals are not their only food source. It just doesn’t make sense that people living in symbiotic harmony with animals would turn around and devour them. Or think it is okay to control their brains, as Jules does when she forces a horse to allow her cougar to ride on its back. Or when she controls a bear for the sake of a spectacle. Or eat their hearts. Or steal their blood for a spell. The Naturalists’ feast contributions after the hunt are described as the most delicious, particularly because of Jules’ stag trophy. But how can they be sure the animal they are eating or exploiting isn’t someone’s familiar? If an animal familiar and their human feel each other’s emotions, what happens to the human when someone takes over the animal’s brain or eats that animal?

The third-person narrative. From I-don’t-know-how-many different perspectives. It made it difficult to connect with the three sisters. Maybe it would have been better if it were the first-person perspectives of the three sisters.

It seems like chunks were edited out to shorten the story. For example, I never did understand the deal with Caragh and Matthew. Is Caragh banished? Is she in jail? Why? And who cares since it doesn’t seem to matter at all to the story? Did I miss something? And what is the story with Matthew and Madrigal, whose relationship seems both super-sudden and completely pointless to the story? And what was wrong with that bear that attacked Arsinoe? It is described as though it rose from the dead. Was it a zombie bear…a zombear? What was wrong with that thing, and why would Arsinoe have a dream about it? What was the intended purpose of nailing Arsinoe’s hand to that tree? Did the magic fail, or did it not go as planned? What was it supposed to do? Why did Arsinoe feel so good the morning after the dream? And why weren’t the dream or the hand-to-tree ritual ever mentioned again?

SLOW pacing. Not much happens until near the end.

The “twist” is so obvious. I knew it from very early on. Readers who pay attention to Mirabella’s dreams and just the general set-up of the girls’ powers will figure it out easily, long before the “big reveal” in the last few paragraphs.

THEMES: sisters, magic, politics, poison

THE BOTTOM LINE: Looking over my “What I Didn’t Like” section, it probably looks like I didn’t like this book. I did like it okay, and I will recommend it to my students without reservation. I never once thought about abandoning the story, and I read it in only about three days (that’s fast for me). Three Dark Crowns is a solid choice for patient fantasy readers looking to read something unique and complex. The action goes up and down, so readers will need some stamina to get through what is necessary to build suspense and establish characters.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have four copies, and they are popular. We also have two copies of the sequel, One Dark Throne. I am undecided on whether I will read the sequel.

READALIKES:


RATING BREAKDOWN:

  • Overall: 3/5
  • Creativity: 4/5
  • Characters: 2/5
  • Engrossing: 3/5
  • Writing: 4/5
  • Appeal to teens: 4/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 3/5

CONTENT:

  • Language: none
  • Sexuality: medium; kissing and plenty of off-screen intercourse (nothing descriptive). Lots of instances of women using sexuality as power.
  • Violence: medium; girl’s hand is chopped off as punishment, Katherine’s guardians poison and abuse her daily, violent bear attack
  • Drugs/Alcohol: mild; brandy, champagne, poison
  • Other: dark magic, witchcraft, animal cruelty

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