By: McKenna Graham, Assistant Arts & Life Editor
Title: “Three Dark Crowns”
Author: Kendare Blake
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Suspense/Drama
Rating: Four Stars
I read this book in a day. Not because it was short, not because it was written in a juvenile fashion, but because it was good. It was suspenseful. It was demanding. It craves your attention. It is the very essence of a pageturner.
Each generation in the kingdom of Fennbirn, the ruling queen gives birth to triplets. One is an elemental, capable of harnessing the elements, and one is a naturalist, capable of controlling plants and animals. The last is a poisoner, capable of, well, poisoning — but really well.
The three are raised separately, trained in their abilities by families who possess the same talents, and soon after their 16th birthday, they are given a year to kill each other.
The one who survives is made Queen Crowned.
The book immediately starts off strong. We are presented with a flawed main character. This girl is not what we’ve come to expect from YA protagonists. She is not blue-eyed and honey-blonde; she is not unnecessarily and obnoxiously self-deprecating or self-pitying. She is not a Unique Innocent Girl Thrust into a Dangerous World. Katherine is a queen, and she is strong, and she has a life-threatening problem that she will never be able to overcome.
Katherine is not the only protagonist in this book – in fact, Blake’s storytelling mode is George R. R. Martin-esque in that she relies upon multiple perspectives to give the reader all sides of the story. For the most part, each chapter designates a change in perspective, but there are some moments that trade point of view between characters.
We get to see each queen’s perspective – Mirabella the elemental, Arsinoe the naturalist and Katherine the poisoner – as they struggle with power and politics gearing up for the beginning of their death contest. Each of them are given traits that set them apart, and each of them are given different strategies to appeal to the public for favor and to overcome their respective struggles.
This story presents you with an interesting premise and then sweeps you away with the plot.
The characters are likeable and enough of them are flawed in a human enough way that there’s no real antagonist, no one you’re really ever rooting against – not really. Everyone has a believable and understandable motive, which is more than can be said for most YA characters — antagonists specifically, who usually just seem to be bad for the sake of being bad. The plot is well-constructed, progresses at a steady and scintillating pace, and keeps things intriguingly messy. Again, similarly to Martin, no one is ever happy for too long.
Don’t mistake this as me saying, “This book is the next ‘Game of Thrones!’” There’s not nearly enough blood, gore, death, vicious assault scenes, or stealthy political power plays to keep a “Game of Thrones” fan satisfied. This book is like a starter tale for the “Song of Ice and Fire” series – if you’re wondering whether or not politics and strategy are for you, this book will give you enough of that to help you find out.
Blake’s writing style is strong, too. She crafts an exciting story, and she backs it up with well-polished writing that is just good enough that she doesn’t get in her own way. Nothing about it feels forced or juvenile or cheesy, but it definitely isn’t the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read. It’s simple, it’s functional, and it does the job.
There’s really only one reason I gave this book four stars, but it’s a big one.
It feels like Blake is being held back by the constraints and conventions of YA literature, or else is holding herself back because she is afraid what she wants to write will not sell.
The plot is overall really interesting, but it sometimes falls into YA conventions that bring it down. There were flashes of really original and unique characters hidden within people who were just different enough to stand out from the rest of young adult literature’s usual cast of tropes. In other words, this book was very different and good, but it has so much more potential than it realizes.
No sequel has been announced yet, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout for one – I’m eager to see what happens next, as well as what Blake can do with it.