My, my, my. Look who we have here.
It’s me. Nikkie. Silent but watchful owner (let’s be real; Super Hubs is just along for the ride) of Married with Bookshelves. Emphasis on silent.
I could offer you a bunch of excuses, but you can come up with one on your own. Suffice it to say: We’re all adults here, and sometimes life gets in the way.
The point is that I’m back! Not only am I back, but I’ve brought SH with me! Say hi, Lawrence. Olo ya’ll! On a recent trip to Target—coincidentally, the same trip where SH picked up The Merciless—I acquired Three Dark Crowns, written by Kendare Blake. The name rang a bell for me because she wrote one of the short stories that was in Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, and I felt like I’d seen some good things around the Internet about this book. So I figured, What the hell? Let’s see where this goes. I didn’t have high expectations . . . which meant I was lowkey blown away by how much I liked this book.
But let’s not spoil the meal by skipping to dessert (even though that’s its own kind of fun). Let’s get into it!
But wait! A tiny anecdote.
When I picked up this book, I had an inkling that it was a series. Why I didn’t bother to just look it up to confirm my hunch, I’ll never know. I somehow convinced myself that it was a standalone. Good, I thought. I needed a break from the heavy series reading I’d been doing of late.
Doubts crept in as I neared the end of the book. I held out hope because there was a chance it would just have an open-to-interpretation conclusion, no sequels required. But then I got to the end, and my fate was revealed to me. I finally succumbed to the Google gods, and there was proof for what I already knew: Three Dark Crowns is the first in a series (trilogy, I believe), and I will be left hanging on until September . . .
Always check your series hunches, friends. Always.
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3DC is the story of triplet would-be queens—Mirabella, Katharine, and Arsinoe—who have just reached their sixteenth year. In their world of Fennbrin, which seems to be an island hidden somewhere off the coast of the world we perceive as real, this means that a yearlong competition is about to kick off. The twist? It’s a Hunger Games kind of competition. Only one sister can remain standing. (I’m admittedly not doing a very good job of explaining what the whole system is, but considering the book ends basically at the start of the competition, I think you’ll forgive me.)
Each sister has a special ability at their disposal. Mirabella is an elemental. Water, air, earth, fire—she’s got control over them all. Katharine is a poisoner. No matter how tainted the food or drink she consumes, she’s unaffected, and she can whip up a pretty mean potion. Arsinoe is a naturalist. She can tame animals and cause crops to grow.
At least. That’s what it’s supposed to be like.
In actuality, Mirabella is the only one who’s really come into her powers. She is a literal force to be reckoned with, so much so that one of the head priestesses of the religious group of Fennbrin has cast in her lot with Mirabella, proclaiming her to be the Queen to be Crowned (but in whatever words she actually said haha). This is a wildly unprecedented move, one that leaves the poisoners quite nervous. A poisoner queen has ruled for several generations at this point, and the fosters of said queens have ruled through the Black Council. And they’re even more nervous over how weak Katharine is. But at least they think there’s hope because Katharine remains standing after years of poisonings (and she is really good at making poisons). Arisnoe, however, has given up on hope. It’s widespread knowledge that she has shown no aptitude at all with her naturalist powers. They appear to be missing. In fact, her best friend and foster sister Jules seems to have gotten all the talent; she’s the best naturalist anyone’s seen in the last 60 years.
What unfolds is a story of sisters who approach the Beltane festival, which kicks off their yearlong assassination attempt, with wildly different opinions. Katharine just wants to stay alive; she’s positive Arsinoe will be easily disposed of, but she’s not sure if she can handle Mirabella. Arsinoe, after a failed childhood attempt to escape the island—an attempt that got the third member of her and Jules’s trifecta, Joseph, banished to the mainland—is resigning herself to her fate; she just wants Jules to be able to survive without her. Mirabella should have nothing to fear, except for the fact that she’s been having horrible nightmares about killing her sisters, and the love she feels for them is far stronger than it should be after 10 years of separation. By the end of the book, however, no one’s thoughts or opinions are where they started. Some people are betrayed . . . Actually, a LOT of people are betrayed. Betrayal City. Pretty much everyone is going to have a bone to pick in the sequel . . .
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I don’t want to say too much more because I think watching everything unfold is really quite interesting. I will say that I very easily guessed what was going to happen at the end of the book, but I don’t think it detracted from the story at all. That’s how much I liked it, and I believe SH will agree with me. There are only so many ways a story like this could go, so I’m of the mind that the most important part is that the journey there is enjoyable. And it definitely was. Even when I knew a scene was going to end in a particular way, I usually had no idea that scene was coming before I got to it (aside from the conclusion, although I didn’t know how it would manifest, so there was that).
As I said, I came in with very low expectations. This is such a saturated genre, one that I’ve been plugged into for some time, so I felt like there couldn’t be much going on that I hadn’t already seen. But with the positive reviews and the fact that most of my books were already packed up by the time I bought this one, I figured I could afford to read something that might be mediocre. But Kendare Blake’s writing style is so effortless that I breezed through half the book before I realized that I didn’t have any complaints. This book snuck up on me in a very real way, making my devastation at discovering it’s a series starter even more acute. As if I don’t have enough stress in my life waiting to find out when Winds of Winter is coming out (GEORGE)! Now I have to tack on at least another year and a half before I can find out the full conclusion to this story?! I can’t handle that! My little heart will give out.
But whatever. I’m glad I read this book! I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys this sort of thing, though I may warn you to just wait until the whole series is published in case you are like me and get way too anxious waiting for sequels. I wish I had that luxury! Since I don’t, I’ll suffer in your stead.
Joining me in my suffering, at least, is my dear husband. I’ll give him the floor, where he will presumably spoil the ending for you because while he guessed it too (and still likes the book), he is a lot more incensed about it for reasons he won’t be able to keep from explaining. I assume. I’m not inside his brain!
Take it away, hon.
Okay, so I will give you the one warning right now. I’m going to spoil a major twist. But if you’ve kept up on your critical reading skills over the years, this isn’t a twist you won’t be able to figure out. Here it is, your last warning:
I’ll give you a chance to figure this out on your own.
One of the sister’s names is Arsinoe, and she’s supposed to be able to talk to animals but she sucks at it. Think about it for a moment. Arsinoe.
Another sister is named Katharine, and she’s supposed to be immune to poison. She’s not.
Katharine and Arsinoe. Are you seeing it yet? Am I seriously not telegraphing it enough for you? This is easy stuff, people. What’s wrong with you!? HOW ARE YOU NOT UNDERSTANDING THIS!?
Arsinoe and Katharine. Arsinoe and Kat. Arsenic and Cat. Guess why they suck at using their powers!
What we have here is a classic example of the ol’ switcheroo. That’s right, Arsinoe—whose name is literally one syllable away from an infamously toxic substance—is supposed to be the poisoner queen. What’s worse, the old queen—aka our deadly sisters’ mother—is aware of who has which power from the moment they’re born and gives them their names. Yet somehow nobody thinks that maybe their names might be related to their powers. I guessed this twist literally the first time Arsinoe is mentioned.
That’s not to say knowing the twist detracted from the book in any way. The only reason I’m salty about it is because I told Nicole I would be if I wound up being right, and I’m a man of my word! I personally believe the switcheroo is a hint at a conspiracy to bring down the system (#NastyWomenGetShitDone), but Nicole does not agree.
Seriously though, this book is great. The prose is very breezy and it has a way of keeping you reading more. It helps that every chapter switches to the perspective of a different sister or character, and we get to see how each of their capitol cities is like. They’re all well realized enough that it never gets stale reading about them, but it’s also very clear that they all exist within the same world, which is a difficult feat to pull off and part of what separates good fantasy from mediocre. It’s a compelling world—albeit a monumentally stupid culture with terrible rules and a needlessly complicated and brutal system of government and succession.
My particular favorite city is Greavesdrake Manor, the capitol of the poisoner queen. It’s such a wonderfully weird place and all the people are all so…gross. Like, they won’t eat food that’s not poisoned. I can’t help but picture them as horribly gaunt and pale ghouls in dapper clothing gorging themselves on the disgusting rotted meat of twisted creatures. Whenever the story went to Greavesdrake, I couldn’t help but think of the video game Bloodborne and its bizarro populace of blood gluttons. This is a good thing.
I had reasons to like and dislike all the sisters, but I was never bored by any of them. Joseph, on the other hand, is a putz and I hate him. AND THAT’S ALL I’LL SAY ABOUT THAT!
Like Nicole, I was very surprised by how much I liked this book because it was a lot. It miiiiight even be one of my top 10 books now, though that’s subject to change based on how the sequels go. For a book that is 100 percent set up, this was really well done. So give it a read, you ANIMALS!
Love you guys! See you next week. I’ll be doing a post about Bloodborne. Bet you thought I just brought it up for no reason. Shows what you know!
So there you have it! Depending on how you grade spoilers, we either majorly spoiled the book for you by giving away the ending twist or we only kinda spoiled it because we didn’t go into any real detail about how events in the book transpire. Regardless, we did warn you ahead of time haha
I just want to briefly give myself a pat on the back for getting SH to start reading more young adult fare and actually enjoying it. Way to go, Me!
In another bit of shameless self-promotion/congratulation, I want to put in a plug for a piece I recently wrote for the Barnes and Noble Teen blog. Have I talked about how I write for that blog on occasion? It may have come up before the overhaul of this blog, now that I think about it . . . Well, whatever. I wrote a piece for the anniversary of Ned Vizzini’s death, which was in December, but my post didn’t go up until Jan 13 because of schedule drama. I’m really proud of the piece—I’ve even gotten a little love on Twitter from people who read and enjoyed it—so I thought I’d break form and share it with you here.
As SH said, he’ll be back soon with a new post, and I have a few things I can choose from to post on my birthday (which is Monday). We’ll see you then, kiddos.
May your TBR pile tower but never topple,
Nikkie and Super Hubs