Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake


3.5 stars

Three Dark Crowns is a fantasy novel about three queens, Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabella, who have to fight to the death for the crown when they turn sixteen.

This has been the tradition on the island of Fennbirn for many years as in each generation, female triplets are born with magical gifts. There are five types of gifted persons: poisoners who can ingest deadly poisons without repercussions, naturalists who bond with familiars and have some control over natural growth, elementals who can control wind, earth, fire, and water, those with the sight gift who can see glimpses of the future, and those with the war gift.

The last two are the most rare, and the queens each belong to the first three, respectively. And when the queens reach their sixteenth birthday, their fight to the death for the crown begins over the course of a year.

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.

The premise of this novel is super cool–it’s like a magical, more twisted version of the Hunger Games.

. . . except we never really got to the “Games” part.

If we broke up the Hunger Games, it would be around 40% introduction and 60% games. But Three Dark Crowns is 100% introduction and 0% games.

In all honesty, it was more like a prequel.

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The summary sells the idea of how its a game of win or lose and a fight to the death of the queens, but nobody in the first book is actually able to do any fighting, lest they want to be disqualified.

This is what the summary says:

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. 

And this is my reaction after finishing this book:

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Because they girls don’t turn sixteen until the very last 2% of the novel. That year long fight to the death? Yeah, it doesn’t actually happen in this book.

That’s saved for the next book.

Despite the shortcomings with the summary implying something other than what we got, I can still dig a good prequel (Narnia, anyone?).

But this book was nearly 400 pages of introduction to a very wide cast of characters.

Very wide. Because there are a TON of characters in this novel. Like seriously. A ton.

And you actually have to remember a lot of them because they’re somewhat important to the plot. But like, there’s a lot of them.

I tried making a character diagram to demonstrate the sheer number of characters that you actually have to remember (I remembered the first letter in their names for some of them?) but then kind of gave up towards the end because at this point, the morning after I finished the novel, I already forgot a large portion of side characters.


My memory’s good, but not that good. I save the important parts of my brain and memorization space so I don’t fail all five AP exams at the end of this year.

I found it tedious trying to remember who’s who and it wasn’t like other books where I could quietly ignore side characters & just remember their first names, because the side characters were actually around half the plot.

I read books because it’s fun and I like reading and stories. But when reading becomes tedious (like in school sometimes), I like reading a lot less.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing–honestly it’s pretty awesome Blake was able to weave this intricate tale of so many people. But for recreational readers like myself, it was a headache I was unprepared for.

I came in looking for “RAHH RAHH ACTION” but instead got “oh yes! that’ll come later 🙂 here are some side characters to keep you company.”

So although this is a negative aspect in my perspective, it’s not necessarily a negative aspect of the writing. I’m just the type of reader that needs something to keep me going

Despite this, the characters were still mildly interesting, though my interest was thinly spread to apply to all the characters.

Katharine, the poisoner queen, is the youngest of the three & must ingest deadly poison on the event three days before her sixteenth birthday. The catch? She’s not very good at ingesting poison without repercussions.

Her poisoner relatives, Natalia and Genevieve, have been training her for years to ingest deadly poison. Genevieve is cruel, for what reason, I am unsure, while Natalia is more motherly.

The character dynamics that spring between the three of them is unique.

Arsinoe has the widest set of side characters, the main being her best friend Jules and her best friend Joseph who was exiled when they tried to helped Arisnoe escape the island. Jules and Joseph have some romance between them, and I was honestly more invested in their romantic pursuits than Arsinoe & Billy (the suitor of the queens).

Mirabella is the queen who is rumored to win and is said to have the strongest powers and is backed by the priestesses of the island. She doesn’t have any friends and starts as the kindest of the three queens, although two priestess handmaidens become her acquaintances.

I saw all of the main characters (the three queens) change throughout the novel, but most of the change happened in the last 10% when all the action happened, not the rest of the novel. My connection to each of them wasn’t very strong and I couldn’t pick which queen I rooted for.

I think Blake developed the characters nicely, it just took a very long time to do. The pacing of the novel was just a little too slow for me because it seemed like she was avoiding an info-dump, but in doing so, Blake dragged out the novel.

The plot twist at the end was foreshadowed nicely & Blake did a good job working up to that, but I just felt like it took a long time to get there.

The actual plot of the queens fighting to death didn’t really come into play until the end of the novel, but there’s a lot of subplots involved, from the priestesses & the religion on the island, to the mainlanders, to other types of non-gift magic, called low-magic, to the politics of the three main magical gifts.

I didn’t care for the romance aspect of the novel. Katharine with her distant-relative? Pietyr, Arsinoe with Billy, Jules with Joseph, and Mirabella with *incoherent mumbling* someone I can’t spoil. They were just there and I wasn’t invested in any of the romances.

I’m finding this more and more prominent because the queens are fifteen for most of the novel and I’m not really invested in anyone’s sophomore year relationships. I found them too young and didn’t care for the romance aspect of this novel.

Overall, Blake’s Three Dark Crowns was a novel with an interesting premise, but the execution just fell flat for me. I’m still waiting for the fight to the death, which is why I’ll still be reading the second novel, One Dark Throne, as I hungrily yearn for the actual battle part of this story. (My half-done character diagram will be put to good use).

And to those of you who read Three Dark Crowns in 2016, well, good luck remembering who all the characters are for the second book. You’ll need it.

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Have you read Three Dark Crowns? What did you think? Feel free to leave any thoughts below (or fill out the portion of my character diagram that I forgot!)

One thought on “Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

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