Synopses. Spoilers. Sarcasm.
Author of Anna Dressed in Blood and Antigoddess Kendare Blake gives you magic, darkness, and anticipation in her newest fantasy novel, Three Dark Crowns. There was not a single ounce of disappointment in this whirlwind of book. A+ cover, gorgeous map inside, and the dark poem on the first page gave me that bubbly feeling you get when you just know the book you’re about to read will be good. This book follows triplet princesses – Katharine, the poisoner; Arsinoe, the naturalist; and Mirabella, the elemental – in their separate respective homes as they prepare for a battle to the death to become Queen. It is in every kingdom’s best interest to get their princess on the throne, and guardians meddle as the sisters’ lives become intwined once again. I did have a little trouble with the switching POVs, but aside from that, I loved this book, from its mood to its kingdoms to its character developments, and most especially the mega plot twist at the end! Good for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, Sarah J Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty, Three Dark Crowns is sure to be the start of a darkly magical trilogy.
Let’s begin with some initial character thoughts:
First up, the Poisoner Queen, Katharine: we first meet her when she vomits up everything at the Black Glut feast, where people wear living poisonous creatures as jewelry. This scene was one of my black heart’s favourites. She gets a freakin’ shadow library?? Sign me the hell up for this castle. She’s too sweet for this harsh castle, like how she needs lessons in seduction and poisons a boy with mercy. Pietyr sounds like he’ll be important and not just cause he’s cute, which ends up being true. Her meddling aunt is horrible but very well written, and I’m sure we’re going to see her make a desperate power play eventually.
Next, Naturalist Queen Arsinoe wants an animal familiar but has not yet gotten one. She is looked over by extremely talented fellow naturalist, Jules, who I’m still not sure if I like. Everyone is calling Arsinoe weak because she doesn’t have any powers, but she is the strongest of them all. She’s defiant, unwilling to give up, extremely loyal, and doesn’t care about appearances when more important things are at stake than looking pretty. The only thing that she has against her is that she’s dabbling in black magic, which is never a good idea. There’s an extremely powerful scene of Arisnoe getting her hand stabbed to a tree in a ritual to call her familiar (a bear), but when she goes back it’s a sick old bear that almost kills her. Low magic is dangerous, and this Madrigal (Jules’ mother) is a witch bitch nuisance always like, “I-need-blood-for-this-thing-you-don’t-know-but-I-will-make-you-strong” bullshit.
And then there’s Elemental Queen Mirabella, who is beloved by the people and is thought to be the strongest of the three sisters. Priestesses follow her everywhere and sacrifices are made for her power, which is really just the priestesses meddling so they can kill a bunch of people themselves to spare Mira’s ‘soft heart’. They’re some bloodthirsty bitches – Elizabeth gets her hand cut off for helping Mira and they all but whip out shackles for their Princess so that she can’t escape. Hell, I’d want to escape too if my ‘protectors’ were this insane. Mirabella is very talented with her wind and water elements, with one of my favourite scenes being when the crazy priestesses are going to rip off Arsinoe’s arms (!!!) and she throws some lightening bolts around like Zeus. I LOVE the idea a ‘White Handed Queen’ (one that has not killed), with the priestesses forging a ‘Sacrificial Year’ so that two ‘weak’ queens will be torn apart and Mira can rule as a pure Queen. Good idea in theory, not so good in practice: no one is giving up that easy. Also, she rescues Jules’ lover Joseph from the sea, then promptly has sex with him. Super awkward when you see your sisters again like, ‘Whoopsie, accidentally slept with my sister’s friend’s boy toy, LOL no biggie’.
Coming out of left field is Jules, Arsinoe’s naturalist caretaker/bff. She ends up being much more central to the plot than I knew, but because she’s a main character, why is she so special? She can’t be a contender for the throne, so what is her purpose in the story? She’s very talented and alright at this friendship thing, but something about her…meh. Her relationship with Joseph was bad from the beginning – I don’t care how cute he is, he’s not good for you, Jules. It was super awkward when Joseph tells her he cheated on her, but at least he admitted it. She hold off the bear in the Quickening ceremony for Arsinoe, but ultimately fails and chaos ensues (which was awesome).
Ah yes, the Quickening Ceremony. The lead up was a little quick, in my opinion, but the ceremony itself was so badass I didn’t care. Katharine eats fake poison, Arsinoe fake summons her familiar, and Mira’s nervous as hell, which is adorable. When chaos breaks out because of a bear on the loose, Katharine escapes to meet Pietyr at the chasm, and he FUCKING THROWS HER IN WHAT THE HELL PIETYR. That is definitely break-up material. This actually leads to a really sweet moment between the remaining sisters being upset that Katharine is gone. “The little one Arsinoe and I promised to protect”. In this savage competition, you forget they’re sisters.
Then we get the EPIC final lines of these three fighters. Katharine survives (yay!) and, covered in a ripped black dress and blood, goes, “First I want revenge, and then I want my crown.” When Jules eats candy meant for Arsinoe and gets poisoned, she swears “They’ll pay for this. They will bleed and scream and get what they’re owed”. CHILLS.
BUT Arsinoe DID eat the candy! She’s the poisoner!!! That’s why she has no gifts with the animals. Does this mean Katharine is a naturalist? She was close with her snake at the beginning. What priestess screwed up that much to accidentally name the princesses the wrong title? I don’t know how this will change their dynamic amongst their people, but I bet book number two is going to have a smackdown or two that I cannot wait for.
*I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music Inc. in exchange for an honest review*