My first encounter with Kendare Blake’s writing was Antigoddess, a story about contemporary Greek gods and goddesses, which had just the right blend of fantasy, action, and character. Three Dark Crowns finds a good in-between from that novel and her popular series Anna Dressed in Blood, which follows her love of horror.

Set on the island of Fennbirn, this story is about three triplets who are all in the running to be the Queen. Each has been given a gift by the Goddess, and when they turn 16, one of them has to kill the others, and then she’ll be crowned the one true queen. It’s like The Hunger Games meets the Stardust movie…but better.

The triplets:

Arsinoe – the naturalist (growing plants and controlling animals) who has no familiar and wants to escape instead of fight

Katherine – the poisoner (mixing toxins and being invulnerable to them) who still gets sick from poisons, and doesn’t know how to socialize with anyone

Mirabella – the elementalist (controlling the elements, of course) who is the only triplet to remember being children with her sisters

I agree with some of the complaints that the first half is slow. There’s a lot of buildup of character, background, and romance, and not enough action. But that’s because there’s a heavy political presence involved before the Quickening, the ceremony that marks the first day that the Queens can fight each other. So there’s a lot for us to familiarize ourselves, and I think it’s supposed to create the feeling of suspense as the big day looms over our three protagonists.

Then things start to happen. I was not expecting to recoil from the book at times in horror or fear of what was happening, but I did and I LOVED IT. Things got downright gruesome, particularly with Arsinoe’s arc. I also did not expect to hate certain characters that I thought I was going to love. While I would have liked the romance to take a backseat, Blake seemed to be using it as shock value, making betrayals more detrimental.

It is interesting to see how the different groups of people raise the queens differently. Katherine is raised by the Council, who are already in power, so she’s never been close to anyone and latches on to one person. Mirabella is involved with the Temple, which requires their acolytes to abandon their powers. This doesn’t vibe well with the most powerful triplet, and she’s surprisingly a pacifist. Arsinoe is really just raised in a village, plain as can be. I also thought it was strange that for most of Arsinoe’s story, the narrative is told from Jules’ point of view, her best friend. This may become a bigger plot point in the future, or it might just be because she is a more powerful naturalist.

The ending of the book was both unsatisfying but unexpected. I spent the entire book trying to think of a scenario that wouldn’t be cliché, and I couldn’t think of one. If Mirabella won, it would be too easy. If Arsinoe won, it would be an underdog story. If all three of them decided they didn’t want to fight, it would be painfully cliché, even if I love all the girls. These ideas came about, of course, before I realized Three Dark Crowns was the first in a series.

Kendare Blake took three children, none of whom were ready to fight, and gave them reasons to kill each other. I watched as their hearts and skins hardened until they were nothing but power and motivation and fiery blood. I’m excited to see who wins, because I won’t know who I want to survive until it is too late.

Finished January 1st

Published September 20th 2016