Let’s start with the last book I finished, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. I read Blake’s YA horror duology way back when and enjoyed it (wait, let me go back and read those reviews to make sure this is an accurate representation of my former self). I lied! Memory is a bitch. I thought the first book was ‘meh’ but truly loved the second. Thank gods for my former self who felt compelled to immortalize things on the internet. Anyway, I like that Blake brings the horror. I love the horror. All the horror, por favor.
Crowns leans more towards your typical YA fantasy with girls who have magic. There are boys and politics and BIG REVEALS. But Blake still manages to wrangle in a horror element or two throughout her story. And those bits were the best bits (find a better written sentence, I dare you.)
Let’s talk plot. Fennbirn is an island the mainland barely remembers. And on this island, the Queen gives birth to a new set of triplets (always girls?) each generation. These triplets will have magic. Elemental magic, natural magic, and poison magic. Perhaps even war magic or the gift of sight. But only one can be Queen so it’s a fight to the death upon coming of age. Literally. They have to kill each other. Last one standing wins the right to continue breathing! Meet Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabelle. They are this generation’s chosen triplets and our main protagonists. You will like all three and wish for them a better outcome than is promised. Each girl has a unique upbringing (they are raised separately by adoptive families) and a strong individual personality. It helps that the story isn’t told in first person. There is far too much first person in YA.
Look, this is a slow burn. Not much happens through the first two-thirds and then the ending is bonkers. Like actual batshit banana pants bonkers. Slow meandering plots work for me. Especially as an antidote to more typical plot driven YA fantasy. I liked spending excessive amounts of time just hanging out with each teenager. All those pages makes the ending matter. But extra time also gives me more opportunities to figure out the big twists. And I did figure out those big twists. Thankfully, my discovery felt less like OMG PREDICTABLE more like THIS IS WHAT I NEEDED TO HAPPEN. So I was satisfied.
Blake gets dark at times. Remember those horror elements I was referring to above? Well, the entire Katharine story line felt Gothic and black-hearted. These poisoners are no joke. She wears a coral snake around her wrist and lives in what I imagined as a cold, stone-heavy castle. Crowds gather to watch Katharine eat airy arsenic pancakes for breakfast. (I paraphrased a scene. Sadly, there are no arsenic pancakes. But I think Kendare Blake should make a note for her next book.) Other locations see girls get their hands chopped off or their innards turned outtards. (Someone stop me.) How delightedly wicked to read, honestly. I felt refreshed and alive. YMMV.
Women rule the day and each girl has a strong female friendship she cherishes. LOVED. But badly done romance also creeps its way into the book reminding me of my least favorite YA romance nonsense. WHO THE HELL HAS EVER BEEN IN A LOVE TRIANGLE? I guess you could blame magic in this case. But I’m just so tired of contrived angst. There are romantic and platonic relationships done interestingly here, though. I tried to focus on those instead.
Should you read this book? I mean, I don’t know. But I read it and had a lovely Sunday afternoon waiting for teenage girls to kill each other. There’s a metaphor around here somewhere about womanhood, murder, and society, if you care enough to find it. For now, I’m off to my next literary journey. I hope there’s more murder.
FINAL VERDICT: A YA Fantasy that’s not reinventing the genre but still lured me in with its Gothic atmosphere and many female characters. A slow and meandering story with a punch to the gut at the end. Popcorn fiction with a side of murder and savage bears. Tres estrellas.