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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 »Joseph ends up washed ashore at Mirabella’s feet after she saves him from a storm. He awakes from his near-death experience and proceeds to seduce her. He’s never met her before and doesn’t realize who she is. He later says he doesn’t understand or know why he did it, but continues to be drawn to Mirabella. It’s unclear whether this is the result of a spell that Arsinoe interrupted or not. But it’s pretty weird if that’s not the case because it truly comes from nowhere and is so sudden and baffling to both character and reader. « Hide 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 »It is not that Katherine and Arsinoe are giftless, rather they have been swapped. Arsinoe is the poisoner and Katherine the naturalist. I was first clued in by how strange it seemed that Arsinoe, the naturalist, had a name that so strongly reminded me of arsenic. Second, Katherine has a pet snake that is very clearly her familiar. « Hide 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 » Did the former queen misidentify her children? Did she do it on purpose?If so, why? « Hide 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.