Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake came out three weeks ago, so if you’ve never heard of it, just give it time. I’d never heard of it before picking it up in the bookstore to study its cover. It’s black matte, and the art is incredible, easy to study for a while without getting bored.
The story takes place on the mystical island of Fennbirn, a tiny little place full of people with gifts. There are Elementals, who can manipulate fire, water, earth, the weather, etc. There are Naturalists who are close with nature and can control animals, grow plants, etc. There are Poisoners who regularly ingest poison with their food, as well as poison and heal others. There are also people gifted with War who are brutal and talented fighters, and those with the Sight, who are basically psychics, but those last two aren’t as prominent as the first three. There are also some “giftless”, but no one cares about them let’s be honest.
They have a strange ruling system on Fennbirn. There’s a queen, and she’ll rule until she gives birth to triplet girls, then she’ll
fuck off leave the island and leave the kids at a cottage with a midwife. Usually, the triplets are one Elemental, one Poisoner, and one Naturalist. The girls are raised at the cottage together until their sixth birthday. Then the Elemental is taken to the Elemental city to be raised as the Elemental queen, the Poisoner to the Poisoner city as their queen, and the Naturalist to the Naturalist city as their queen. Sometimes one of the triplets is born with the sight or war gifts, or no gift at all, but that’s not important.
The queens are raised apart until they’re sixteen, then they’re put together and given a year to kill each other. Last one standing gets to be the next queen, give birth to the next triplets, and be next to leave the creepy semi-sentient island.
And in the sixteen years between the birth of the queens and their killing each other, the island is ruled by the court of whichever talent the last murderous queen had. There. I think I got everything.
The book weaves many stories and perspectives together to give readers the best understanding of the events happening. We come to know each of the three queens in the months before their sixteenth birthday. We are forced to get closer to each and understand them and their lives while knowing at least two will die. The book is told with clever cuts, each queen is endearing in their own way, and Kendare Blake is skilled at using language to draw us into the island of Fennbirn.
I only have a three qualms with this book. For one, I guessed the big final twist on page 30. (I even took note of what page I was on when I figured it out so I could tell you.) For a book that is 398 pages, that’s not great. But there were still all the questions of how and why and when that I gladly stuck around for.
Another thing was the focus on side characters. There were supporting characters with each queen, but only two groups of supporting characters got any attention without their queen, and one group was focused on more than the other. The attention on some supporting characters, especially in the middle, took away from the attention on their queen and also made the story feel slightly lopsided.
Lastly, Fennbirn was an attempt at a matriarchy. Unfortunately, it’s not completely convincing, especially when men are still physically stronger and imposing, but I appreciated the attempt. It’s interesting to see Blake’s take on how a society different from ours might work.
Despite these three things (I nearly typed three queens, look how much this book has gotten into my head), I thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward to the next in the series. Unfortunately, with this book being so new, the next book won’t be out for a while. No worries though; I already have a lineup of books to read next.
Have you read Three Dark Crowns? What did you think? If you haven’t, would you want to? Let me know in the comments!