“Three Dark Crowns” by Kendare Blake

I’m very late to the party with this series. I’ve seen a lot of people raving about them online, mostly on Goodreads and Instagram, since those are the main places I interact with other YA readers. But I’d never got around to reading them, and I don’t think I heard about it much when the first book came out — somehow it passed me by.

For those who also haven’t been paying attention, the third book in this trilogy just came out (at least, I think it’s a trilogy). I think that’s why I was able to request this as an ARC from NetGalley, despite it having been out for a couple of years — they must have been trying to promote the series ahead of the third book’s release. And if I’d planned tihs properly, I’d have timed my read/review to coincide with that. But I didn’t. Because that’s the story of my life.

three dark crowns

My reaction to Three Dark Crowns was fairly conflicted, so I sat on it for a couple of weeks to see if time would help me figure out what my feelings were towards the book. It helped a bit — it usually does. Gives me a chance to get some perspective and work out what my feelings actually are by seeing what I remember about the book, and what’s faded in the time that’s passed. Usually, the parts I remember are the important elements anyway. If something annoyed me, that’ll intensify with time. If it fades, it probably wasn’t a big deal.

First of all: I can definitely see why this series is popular. It’s compulsive reading, with life-or-death stakes, and a number of plot twists that genuinely caught me by surprise even when I thought I’d figured out where the story was going. One of these comes right near the end of the book, leaving me desperate enough to reserve the next book at the library so that I could find out what happened next.

If you’re unaware of the premise, it involves three triplet sisters, each with a different magical gift (a poisoner, who is resistant to poison; a naturalist, who has power over plants and animals; and an elemental, who can control the elements). One of them will be queen — and she’ll manage that by killing the other two. This naturally encourages the reader to root for one or other of the characters to succeed, but it’s never clearcut, and I felt my loyalties shifting throughout the book.

Also, normally I want characters to be MORE stabby, but there’s something about giving me naturally stabby characters that makes me want to reform them and sort things out peaceably. It’s like I always want the opposite of what I’m being given 😂

So yeah, I liked the plot. However, I really didn’t like the writing style. This was partly just the prose, which never felt as polished as I would have liked (also, that one weird metaphor about lice. WHY WOULD YOU CHOOSE LICE FOR THAT COMPARISON. WHY). There were so many characters and POVs that I spent the first third of the book thoroughly confused as to who anybody was. Arsinoe’s sections in particular were bewildering: there were too many women with strange names, and they all got tangled in my head.

So when I got to the end of the book, I had two conflicting opinions. On a plot level, I’d definitely have given it four stars. I love to be surprised, I love complicated sibling relationships (which are basically central to this book’s premise), I love betrayals and alliances and all that interpersonal conflict you can get. On a prose level… ehhh. This would not have been four stars. And so I found myself unsure how to review it.

With hindsight, though, I lean towards a positive interpretation, because what I *remember* about the book, a couple of weeks down the line, is the plot. Not the writing style. I remember the twists, and wanting to know where they go, not how each sentence was structured. And it was the plot that made me request the second book at the library so that I could find out what happened next.

But it was the writing style that made me get the book from the library instead of buying it. So 🤷

Having now read the second book, I have two additional observations. One is that book two, being a finished copy, had a list of characters at the front, which would probably have helped a lot with making sense of book one; reading an ARC meant I missed that. The other was that the prose seemed to improve, and I’ll probably pick up book three at some point.

But yeah. This one was slightly mixed for me, though my overall impression is leaning towards positive.

Rating: ***

Three Dark Crowns on Amazon (UK)

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