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.
I’ve had my eye on Three Dark Crowns since it came out a couple of years ago. The synopsis and short poem at the beginning were enough to make me think this book would be fantastic and magical. The cover is beautiful, too. All of this plus the rave reviews I’d seen everywhere made me really excited to read it. I’m disappointed to say that it didn’t live up to the hype.
I had a difficult time getting into this story. The writing was mostly decent but it worked against the best plot points in the story. They weren’t written with enough drama and therefore sucked any potential impact from the scenes. I think the writing negatively impacted nearly every part of the book—plot, atmosphere, intrigue, and characters. There was mention of the ceremonies of Beltane throughout the whole book but mentioning them does not create intrigue and anticipation. There was no build up and when those events actually arrived, they were sped through and brushed over so much. We saw the queens do their parts of the ceremonies but the writing failed to make me feel how exciting and dramatic and important those scenes should’ve been. The atmosphere was seriously lacking throughout the whole story. The world and politics involved some dark ideas and traditions (killing your sisters!) but it wasn’t reflected in the overall tone of the novel. Also, it was just plain slow. I can forgive slowness in books where the focus is on political build up, but the plot didn’t live up to the premise and didn’t make the sluggish pace worth it.
The three main characters of this story are Arsinoe, Mirabella, and Katharine. I didn’t really connect with or particularly enjoy any of them. I expected morally gray characters since they were raised with the knowledge that they’d have to someday kill their two sisters, but I found the darkness I’d expected lacking profoundly in all of them. Again, the basis of this world would seem to breed a certain type of queen and culture but nobody acted in a way I thought made sense. They had mere weeks until they needed to display their powers for the public but there wasn’t enough of a sense of panic or urgency or worry. Or even excitement to finally begin the Ascension Year and get their throne. The queens were far too normal for a culture based on such a brutal tradition and far too calm for completely unprepared queens. Mirabella and Arsinoe were absolutely nothing special. Katharine showed a little more of the darkness I was expecting, but she was ultimately a disappointment, too. Why would a girl raised to be a powerful queen prepared to kill her sisters be so controlled by a man who just walked through the door a few days ago? Why was her change and success thanks only to him? The people around the queens made them weak of character and will in their efforts to train them. They were controlled by the people trying to get them on the throne, which isn’t untypical in real life, but it made these girls little more than suggestible puppets. None of them took smart action on their own behalf. They were a massive let down. Jules was a secondary character that almost felt like another MC, but she disappointed me, too. She focused too much on Joseph, who was a dingbat.
The plot was, as I mentioned, slow. It didn’t build to anything really worth it to be honest. I’m so disappointed because this book has been talked about all over the place and I really expected a dark, twisted tale of three ruthless sisters vying for the throne. Nothing remotely dark really happened in this book. The ideas are there, but the execution wasn’t. Most of the book was following the queens’ preparations for Beltane and the forces behind them making their political moves and plans that panned out to nothing. There was also way too much time spent on love interests for each girl. They weren’t even fleshed out enough and added nothing of value to the story. There’s not much else to say about the plot. The only real surprise came on the very last page. I didn’t care much about the other plot points/twists and that’s the problem—the apathy I felt for the story and characters.
I enjoyed the matriarchal society in this world and the mysterious island they live on but I wanted to know more about how their world became ruled like this. Most of what I appreciated was the world building structure. I also enjoyed the view of the politics the different POVs gave us. It was expansive and interesting although I think there needed to be clarification on certain aspects of the political world of Fennbirn, including the Black Council, because 300 pages in, I still had no real grasp of their duties or importance. I enjoyed the magic system, especially the poisoners. They’re a very unique sort of magic that I don’t think I’ve seen before. The queens’ powers (or lack thereof) was a driving force behind the build up to Beltane, but it didn’t feel particularly magical. I would’ve liked to see more focus on the magic itself.
Overall, this book was a disappointment. I didn’t hate it and there were some aspects I enjoyed, but it didn’t deliver the dark, magical tale I’d hoped for. Unfortunately, the surprise twist at the very end isn’t enough to keep me interested in the story of the three queens. I won’t be reading the sequel.
Thanks for reading,