Published by Macmillan Children's Books
Published on September 22nd 2016
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Three sisters. One crown. A fight to the death.
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 received a copy of this book from Pan MacMillan in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I don’t normally write really spoiler-filled reviews so take note, THIS REVIEW IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS.
Three girl triplets are born to every generation, three queens who one day must battle to kill each other with the victor crowned queen of the island.
Each triplet born is supposed to be gifted with a magical power, one of possibly five. The three most common are poisoner, the ability to ingest any poison and live; naturalist, the ability to control plants and bond with a special animal ally known as a familiar – the fiercer the better; the elemental, able to conjure and control storms and the elements. The lesser powers are the war mages, gifted with some kind of battle magic, and I think, from what I remember, there’s another power, one of precognition, that is so feared the babies are drowned at birth rather than grow up and go mad from visions. The mother supposedly knows which triplet is gifted with which power.
So once the mother gives birth she races off the island as fast as she possibly can with her king-consort and leaves these baby triplets to live together and be raised (can’t remember by whom, there are three factions on the island) until they are six years old. Then they’re separated and raised by foster families, the leaders of the factions, until they turn sixteen. Then there’s this massive ceremony and all this traditional stuff like meeting possible suitors, who each have to meet every queen and guess which one is going to live and woo that one, despite the fact that only one of them is going to live, and the queens must perform and show off their powers in front of everyone at this massive gathering of all the factions, and this is all supposed to happen without the queens meeting one another. And only then, after all this ceremony, the queens are given one year to murder each other and the victor given the throne until she gives birth and races off the island to leave behind three tiny babies. This didn’t make much sense to me. Why is there even a ruling queen when it’s clearly the queen’s faction that runs the island? And how can the religious priestesses decide whom they want to be queen when they’re not even part of a faction? And why is everyone convinced Mirabella, the elemental queen, is going to be the victorious one? And if it’s because the other two sisters haven’t shown much of a gift yet, why isn’t it officially a Sacrificial Year, where there is one strong sister and two powerless ones? And how come the priestesses feel they have the right to murder the young queens at any time even though it’s supposed to be done by the sisters themselves?
I had SO MANY QUESTIONS.
I actually liked all of the queens and I couldn’t pick a favourite. I loved Mirabella’s compassion, despite the fact that everyone was expecting her to murder her sisters. I loved Katharine’s (the poisoner queen) defiance and will to survive, although I do wish she fought back against the nasty abusive character. And I loved Arsinoe’s resilience and fierceness even after all the tragedies that had befallen her. I loved how Mirabella and Arsinoe each had best friends, and I even liked Katharine’s little ‘teach me how to seduce a boy’ romance with Pietyr.
What I didn’t like was Joseph. I know his actions were due to Arsinoe’s desperate use of low magic, but I couldn’t stand how he and Mirabella just shagged on the beach after knowing each other for all of five minutes, unprotected and without even hesitation like they were both grown ups with plenty of experience and no feelings rather than virgins who didn’t know what they were doing and driven by hormones they don’t understand.
Feed Your Fiction Addiction wrote this wonderful blog article about how the YA community was so jumping on the anti-slut-shaming bandwagon that casual sex was on the rise and even being encouraged, and I tend to agree. In the rush to make our heroines sexually liberated and free from being abused because of that, the casualness of sexual encounters is becoming so numerous it’s confronting.
“I kind of feel like, in our mad rush to avoid slut shaming, a lot of books have swung in the other direction, and the message is being portrayed that sex really should be casual – that it’s more fun or somehow better that way. That waiting to have sex until you’re really sure of your feelings about someone is a bit passé – you shouldn’t have to be sure of your feelings because feelings aren’t necessary for sex (which is obviously true in some ways), and (girls especially) should own their sexuality in this new way by not really worrying too much about that.”
The casual sex was way too casual, between strangers, unprotected, it involved a guy cheating on the girl he loved and a girl taking advantage of an obviously delirious guy, and the whole thing made me feel kinda icky. And worse than that, once Joseph knew what he’d done he continued to do it, and continued to proclaim his love for Jules while having it off with Mirabella every chance he got. And then, when Jules was finally ready to forgive him and consummate their love, he just wanted to hold her. I just… argh. I found him very frustrating.
And then what the fuck was up with Pietyr? Who the fuck was he working for? Does he really want Katharine dead and if so, why didn’t he let the priestesses do it? And how come no one stopped the priestesses importing all those crates of knives anyway? And how come, once the priestesses decided to kill Arsinoe, they let her get away and didn’t try to kill her again?
Sometimes I was just downright confused. Sometimes the writing was really jerky. I didn’t particularly care for the present tense narration either, I don’t think it quite worked. I think it was supposed to help create the element of tension and fast pacing but to me it kind of felt more like I was being told the story rather than shown it. “And then the characters do this, and then they do that, and they go here, and this happens.” The concept was awesome, but the worldbuilding was confusing. If the queens only have ruling power over some magical island that appears in a mist every so often, and only for about ten years before they give birth, why are the mainlanders so invested in the outcome? What’s so special about this island?
I liked how the book started out, with each chapter dedicated to each queen preparing for her birthday. I liked less how as the book went on the chapters got shorter and shorter, sometimes only two pages long, in an attempt to make the book’s pace appear faster in light of so much structured ritual for the narrative to follow.
Look, I did really like Three Dark Crowns due to the sheer originality of the worldbuilding, and I think it’s a series I’d love to follow to the end, but it did have issues with getting the fantastic concept onto the page in a satisfying way and of course the main goal of the narrative, the murder (or redemption) of two sisters until there is only one queen standing obviously didn’t happen in this first book, even though I felt like it could have very easily been a stand-alone and wrapped everything up within one novel.