Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

three dark crowns

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

In every generation three queens are born, but only one can rule. One will control the elements, one will control nature, and one will commune with death through poisons. When they come of age they give a display of their powers, meet their suitors and have a year to eliminate their rivals. The one left standing will be queen.

Arsinoe, Mirabella and Katharine each have their own obstacles to overcome on the way to the top. Arsinoe, the naturalist, has no powers to speak of, but her best friend is one of the strongest naturalists in generations. Arsinoe can’t help but being jealous that the one thing that might keep her alive has been gifted to someone who does not need it. Mirabella is clearly the strongest of the three, but is troubled by dreams of her sisters and is reluctant to kill them. Katharine, like Arsinoe, is very weak in her powers, but the poisoner faction of the kingdom has held the throne for so long they cannot imagine not being the power behind the monarch.

The story is told from 4 different viewpoints: each of the three queens and Arsinoe’s best friend Jules. I found this got a little confusing, as the internal voices of the characters aren’t that different and each has their own small cast of characters, so I would spend the first couple of sentences trying to get back into the head space of that character and remember who everyone was. The changes between voices were frequent, which wasn’t great, but I enjoyed the book despite this.

Most of the conflict is political. Different factions back different queens and vie for power. They are prepared to scheme and even cheat to make sure their chosen candidate wins. Added to the mix are outside suitors all trying to romance whomever they think will win and the queens trying to attract as much support as possible. Think Game of Thrones but with training wheels.

The set-up for the political system was a cool one: each queen has their own superpower and they get to use it to assassinate the others. Brilliant! Unfortunately, this book does not  get to that point, the actual combat will be in the second book. This book was an exploration of the political system and the personalities and powers of the queens. It was a good introduction to the series, but almost did not cover enough for an entire book. It left on a terrible cliffhanger.

This looks to be a really interesting series with a cool world, as long as you can put up with frequent changes to the narrative voice.

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