Three Dark Crowns: Review

August 29, 2016 2016, 3 star books, fantasy, Kim 11 ★★★

Three Dark Crowns: ReviewThree Dark Crowns Published by HarperTeen on September 20, 2016
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

This is the dark, twisted tale of three sisters fair destined to destroy each other. Or rather, only two need die. One will emerge victorious. On the island of Fennbirn, when the queen gives birth it is always to triplet girls. Each new queen is either a poisoner, a naturalist, or an elementalist. The queen identifies which queen is which and then abdicates. The new queens are raised together until the age of 6, when they are claimed by their different factions and trained in their powers. In the year of their 16th birthday, the Ascension year, the queens will each put their powers on public display and then proceed to attempt to murder each other. They have one year to accomplish their tasks. The last queen standing wins.

Of the three sisters, we spend the most time with Arsinoe, the naturalist. The naturalists live in a seaside town that evokes a humble, quaint fishing village. They are able to control aspects of nature, like bringing a bud to bloom. Their main power involves the acquisition of a familiar. The more powerful the naturalist, the more powerful their familiar. Arsinoe’s best friend, Jules, has a cougar familiar and is considered one of the strongest naturalists in decades. However, Arsinoe’s gift has not yet come to bear; her familiar has not made itself known. She cannot head into the Ascension year without her gift.

Katherine, the poisoner, faces the same problem. Poisoners not only are gifted at making poison, but they can imbibe it as well with no harm done to themselves.The last three queens have been poisoners, and they have no desire to relinquish their power now. But Katherine has no tolerance for poison. It was Katherine’s world, though, that I loved the most. Hers is the poisoner’s world of dark velvets, crystal decanters, and secrets hidden in each dark corner of the mansion.  The lush, dark, opulence of the poisoners is a world I could have happily read an entire book about.

Mirabella, the elementalist and the only one of her sisters to be gifted, also has an especially strong gift. She can control elements and bend them to her will at whim. Her story is of the mountainous forest and the priestesses who, though they should be neutral, have placed their bets on Mirabella.

I loved the mood and atmosphere of the story. There is a mystique to Fennbirn that is palpable, and a sense that the island is almost…alive. It is certainly alluded to often. The island’s religion frequently references “the goddess” as though she herself is the island. The island makes itself seen to those from “the mainland” only when it wants to. If the island does not want you to leave, you will not. The island demands what it demands. Sometimes that’s blood. Sometimes it’s lives.

What I struggled with, though, was the writing. Written in third person present, there is a sort of distancing effect that I believe is intentional. It also did feel very true to the telling of this story. Third person present is strange, and this is a strange story full of strange people and stranger rituals. Because of this distancing, however, I did feel at a constant remove from the emotional connection I usually desire in my reading experience. Arsinoe is brave and somewhat wild. Mirabella is saintly and self-sacrificing. Katherine is naive, but dark and fierce. Yet I just never felt completely invested in their stories. It made nearly no difference to me which of the queens, if any, emerged the victor. I will say, though, that besides the perspective, the writing itself is gorgeous.

Each sister has a love interest, of sorts. The emotional distance previously mentioned made it hard for me to feel attached to any of the pairings. The relationships are all mostly surface level, bar the exception of the one between Jules and her longtime love, Joseph. This reminds me: there’s definitely a love triangle. And it’s honestly baffling because it basically comes from nowhere. View Spoiler »  However, I didn’t really mind so much as I wasn’t invested in any of the romances to begin with. I was just confused about what exactly was going on there.

I was also frustrated because I was able to guess what I supposed would be the “big twist” within the first couple of chapters. View Spoiler » I think the book will likely be vastly more enjoyable for those who do not pick up on the twist. The ending will be very twisty-turny. It also opens up the door for many interesting questions to be answered in the next book View Spoiler » Also, what is going on on the mainland? And how does the politics and scheming of the mainland factor into Fennbirn? There is much here to be explored in future volumes.

Three Dark Crowns is a moody, atmospheric, and dark YA fantasy. There’s blood magic, political intrigue, betrayals, and murder. The Ascension Year has officially begun and now the queens are out for blood. I’m very intrigued to see just how brutal and vicious the story can become.


An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


kim teal










11 Responses to “Three Dark Crowns: Review”

  1. Hannah

    I don’t understand how they put her as a naturalist even though arsinoe is a poisoner. Also dose aresino only have poisoner power. I’m greatly confused. (I’m terrible at spelling)

  2. Alissa B.

    Unfortunately I picked up on the Big Twist very early on (like within the first 1/3 of the book). It was so obvious I was smacking my head wondering why the characters DIDN’T get it. Still an enjoyable book, though. Not a lot of action, but there was some fantastic world-building and character development going on. I’ll be looking forward to the next one and, hopefully, an Epic Battle.

  3. Nina

    This was on my co-blogger’s and my highly anticipated releases list for the autumn season. You describe some of the issues I’ve heard of from others, too, such as the love triangle and the predictability of the twist. I’m still curious about this one, because I absolutely love the idea of a magic battle between queens when only one of them truly has a power, but my expectations have been lowered considerably. A lovely and consise review, Kim! :)
    Nina recently posted…Monthly Recommendations: Science Fiction

  4. Carina Olsen

    Gorgeous review Kim :D Yay for enjoying this one. <3 But ahh. I loved it, lol :D But I get why you had some issues. Gosh. That romance. I loved all the characters. Well. Except for that one Queen.. hmph. I loved Jules THE MOST. And I wanted to murder Joseph at all times. Ugh. I just want them together. And I'm so angry about that triangle thing. Sigh. But I'm trying to overlook it, haha :) Because I loved the story so much. Anyway. Thank you for sharing sweet girl. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday #255

    • Kim

      Ha, thank you, Savannah! I am glad I come off as balanced. :) I think you should definitely pick up a copy of this book!! It’s beautifully written and deliciously dark. I think that I am just not a very technical reader, I’m an emotional reader. And I found the third person present too distancing for my liking. Others certainly won’t have this problem! And for those I say you will probably enjoy this book immensely! I mean, there’s blood magic and sister-queens out to kill each other. These are good things. :p
      Kim recently posted…Three Dark Crowns: Review

    • Kim

      Thanks! It really wasn’t a struggle. The writing truly is gorgeous and fluid. The world is interesting and built up in its culture and mythos so elegantly. It’s just that I felt at more of a remove from the story than I prefer.
      Kim recently posted…Three Dark Crowns: Review

  5. Leah

    I had the exact same thought on the “big twist” while reading this! Katharine’s nickname was a big tip off to this as well. And that love triangle was just so random, I also wondered where it came from. I can’t wait for the next book though.

    Excellent review!
    Leah recently posted…{Leah Reviews} Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

    • Kim

      Oh, so glad to know I’m not alone! Wasn’t the triangle so out of nowhere? I get that it tied into the whole mystical aspect of the island. I think there’s supposed to be a sense of confusion surrounding it, but it mostly left me feeling disoriented. I *think* we’re supposed to think that it happened as part of the consequences of low magic. It’s not clear. But I am also very much looking forward to the next book! Bloodthirsty queens out for vengeance and menace. Yaaaaaasss. Gimme any day.
      Kim recently posted…Three Dark Crowns: Review

      • Leah

        That love triangle came so far out of left field. I also thought it was the low magic backfiring, but I don’t know and it’s driving me nuts that I don’t know. :)