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.

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Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

eligible cover.jpgMy Masters is finished, guys. It’s done. I’ve been reading and reading for the last three weeks. It’s been such a relief to rediscover reading for fun. I went home for a couple of days shortly after handing in my dissertation, and after that went to Cornwall for a family weekend. Between getting home and going to Cornwall, I picked up my mum’s copy of Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Let me start by saying overall, this is a great, fun read for any lovers of Pride and Prejudice. Considering it was over 500 pages and I read it in a couple of days (partly because I didn’t want to lug the giant hardback on my holiday…), obviously I had an excellent time reading this. I am a lifelong fan of Jane Austen, my comfort watching mostly consists of Austen adaptations, my mum and I spend a good amount of time exchanging Austen-isms. So believe me when I say, if you like Pride and Prejudice the way I do, you’ll love this. But you might have some reservations too.

I’m also going to break with my usual review format, just to warn you

(no! I hear you cry)

Brief synopsis

Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice takes place in Cincinnati. Liz and Jane Bennet have been summoned home from their lives in New York while their father recovers from heart surgery. Old patterns of behaviour return between the parents and the five sisters, the three youngest of whom live at home.

Also fresh to Cincinnati are Chip Bingley, star of the reality TV show Eligible, a charming and sensitive doctor who only has eyes for Jane, and his friend, haughty neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy. And we all know what happens from there.

Things I didn’t like so much

I don’t usually start with negatives, but these are mostly just personal reservations I had while reading, rather than universal criticisms I imagine everyone will have.

My first reservation is just that if you don’t love Pride and Prejudice, or even know the story, this book might not work. There are a lot of P&P in-jokes. A lot. And so much of my enjoyment came from seeing how each aspect of the story, each character and each plot development, was cleverly updated. Without knowing where all these things came from, would it be as much fun? Hard to say. Of course, the likelihood of someone picking this up who wasn’t already a Pride and Prejudice fan is very slim, so maybe this isn’t a valid criticism, but it nagged at me a bit while reading.

My second reservation – and this may be controversial – is that I didn’t like Liz. She didn’t ring true to me as Lizzy. I was still on her side, still winced for her at the slight from Darcy at the BBQ, still wanted her to have a happy ending. However, when I read it, I didn’t find her amicable, which Lizzy inherently is. I found her to be short-tempered, and while Lizzy is quick-witted and usually has something clever to say, Liz in Eligible seemed to snap rather than wittily retort.

Finally, before I get to the things I liked (which do, never fear, outweigh my reservations), my final criticism is that I thought it would have worked better in first person. If memory serves, Liz was in every single scene, and the biased third-person narration probably added to my dislike of Liz’s character, since it had all the notes of an un-self-conscious, unreliable narrator, without the intimacy of the first-person narration. If the voice we were hearing had been Liz’s rather than the semi-omniscient narrator, I might have liked her more.

Things I liked

Despite what I’ve said above, this could be a huge section, and I don’t want to spoil the joys of discovering Sittenfeld’s moments of hilarity and cleverness, so here are a few quick notes on what I liked:

  • The use of the show Eligible to reflect the gossip of Hertfordshire in Pride and Prejudice toward Bingley’s arrival
  • The development of Liz and Darcy’s relationship was a stroke of genius and I think I barked with laughter when… *SPOILER*. But if you’ve read it…you know which bit I mean
  • The mystery of Mary’s secret Tuesday night outings
  • The Wickham adaptation. Part out it had to be explained to me (I feel silly) but I particularly liked Jasper Wick
  • Jane as a yogi – this rang so very true with me
  • The re-aging of the characters, the nifty scenario in which all the Bennet sisters end up back at their childhood home
  • Mrs Bennet: the Hoarder

Should I read this?

If you like Pride and Prejudice, then yes, of course you should read this. Despite its size it is not a long read, and you’ll definitely have a lot of fun reading it. Even if, like me, you have a few minor reservations.