Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

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I’ve been reading some reviews of this over the past few weeks and found very few I could fully agree with, so I thought I’d throw my own review into the mix. I bought this book for many reasons – partly because Jay Kristoff recommended it on his twitter, partly because the blurb had me utterly hooked, and partly because I found a proof in an Oxfam bookshop (ssh). Here’s a quick recap of the plot:

Three sisters. Three queens. One crown. Rumours abound around each of them.

Katherine is a poisoner, skilled at mixing deadly concoctions and able to withstand even the strongest of poisons.

Arsinoe, the naturalist, can bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest lion.

Mirabella, the strongest elemental in generations, able to conjure up flames and storms on a whim.

Each sister must fight the others for the crown. Only one will survive.

If only it were that simple. Katherine is indeed a skilled poisoner but, despite years of training, cannot stomach even mild poison, let alone anything stronger. Arsinoe is unable to help even a weed to grow. They, and the people around them, have been keeping their vulnerabilities a secret. But as the time for battle draws closer, who will survive?

So I absolutely love the concept for this book, and overall, I think it is really well executed. Immediately, I loved the idea that two of the three sisters have no natural talent for their destined gifts at all. However, it didn’t play out at all as I expected.

Many other reviewers have noted the slow burning narrative, some longing for more action and less of the dramatic build up. For me, the slow storytelling was great. It allowed me to get to know the world of this absurd island, Fennbirn, with its insane traditions that sets sibling on sibling. It also allowed me to get to know the secondary characters, who were absolutely my favourite part of this book.

Each sister is placed in a different area of the island, surrounded by those who can aid the development of their gifts – Arsinoe is sent to naturalists, Katherine to poisoners, and Mirabella to the temple. Each sector is desperate for their queen to win the contest, but they are not merely ambitious. Arsinoe’s friends/adopted family are the most openly loving to their queen, and they were some of my favourite characters. The poisoners with which Katherine is placed are much colder and much sneakier, keeping secrets from her and teaching her how to seduce the suitors who come to the island for a chance to become a queen’s consort, but in their own way, they obviously care for her (one thing I enjoyed about the poisoners – they treat poison like spices, any dish is duller without a touch of poison). The temple, however, are much crueller and more controlling of Mirabella, the only one of the three sisters with any actual power.

The dramas, romances, heartbreaks and rumours that built up within each camp and between them were all enticing and believable.

None of the queens was what I was expecting from the blurb – I’d be interested to know how other people reacted to them. Arsinoe and her cohort were probably my favourites, or at least the ones I identified with the most.

There were also a couple of things that didn’t 100% work for me which I will briefly detail here..:

  • occasionally a side character would say something about one of the queens, denote a specific quality as though it were obvious, which would then not necessarily play out in the action
  • the ending… I’m excited to see where this goes, definitely, but that was the only time I felt the pacing was a little off and there was something of a rush to the cliffhanger reveal
  • naturalist and elemental are a little bit too similar to be two different sets of powers…especially when poisoner is so far removed from either of them. In my opinion.

OVERALL I really enjoyed this. I’m very excited for the sequel and looking forward to re-entering this world when it comes out, although I am quietly worried that all of this excellent build up might lead to an unsatisfactory ending (don’t let me down, Blake!). Despite my reservations I gave this four stars on Goodreads (follow me here). It was so different from what I expected, much darker and richer in characters, history, world, and intrigue than I was anticipating. If you’re at all intrigued by this one, I say go ahead and try it.

Also, don’t you love that they made three different covers to represent the three queens? I always fall for stuff like that.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Last week I was on holiday and I read four books – so stay tuned for more reviewing!

Contrary to my usual format, I don’t know if there’s going to be a ‘what I didn’t like’ section for this book. I blasted through this in a day, even though it is 400…500? pages long (I don’t have it with me, awks). This book was released the day before I went on holiday, and I stayed in all day (partly doing dissertation work and packing…partly in anticipation) to wait for my pre-order to arrive. I’m so glad it did, this was a highlight of my reading month. Let’s get into the review.

Synopsis

And I Darken is a retelling of the life of Vlad the Impaler – but in this case, Vlad is a girl, Lada. The blurb markets her as a princess the likes of whom you have never experienced. And while I was initially doubtful this book would deliver on that promise, I can safely say it did. Lada is fierce and fiercesome, determined, proud, loyal but not blindly, and entirely self-centred. Against the rich backdrop of the Ottoman Empire, Lada and her exact opposite brother, Radu the Handsome, must navigate the complicated political terrain, wrestle with their own constantly warring feelings toward each other, and figure out once and for all where their own loyalties lie. Initially, they are unwilling to trust Mehmed, who is after all the son of the sultan who holds them hostage against their father, but soon the three of them come to love and rely on each other in an environment where they can trust little else.

What I liked

Let’s start with the obvious: Lada. She was just great. Flawed in unexpected but un-irritating ways. Quite human, and yet utterly inhuman as well. I related to her more than I thought I would. Radu and Mehmed too, are wonderfully crafted characters. Radu and Lada hold the main third-person narration, and while I connected with each of them in different ways I didn’t find myself placing my own character on them – I liked them, as if they were people I knew and I was invested in what they were trying to achieve. Brilliant characterisation.

The setting. This is a period in history (and geography) I know very little about. Fascinating reading – can’t comment on the accuracy of the research but it was flawlessly utilised in the storytelling, not imposing or overwhelming but (certainly from the perspective of a know-nothing Ottoman-ignorant like me) felt real. Well-composed, narratively astute and complementary to the story.

The length. This is an odd one to choose, probably. But as much as I love a chunky book, this one was on the short side of an epic and the long side of a YA novel. It was just the right length for a day of sofa-bound reading when I got sick on holiday. It didn’t drag, and it didn’t rush.

What I didn’t like

Had to put this section in here just for standard formatting sake but do I have anything I didn’t like?

Not really. I felt pretty good about most aspects of this.

I guess, could have had a bit more of the Dad? Prince Vlad of Wallachia The whole conflict on his side of things sounded quite fun, with forces amassed against him, and him an uncaring, spineless and selfish leader. BUT I reckon we’re going to get more of the conflict in Wallachia in the next book, and through a more interesting lens too (but here there be spoilers, so I shan’t elaborate).

Should I read this?

If you’re in the market for some historical epic, without conventional romances or history itself quite as you know it, or if you want to complex, engaging, and morally dubious characters, or if you have been hearing about this and weren’t sure whether to pick it up, then YES. Do read it. Then let me know what you think. Can’t wait for book two.

The Book Depository

You can buy the book here.

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