Three Dark Crowns starts out with an interesting premise: Three sisters, three different powers, and only one of them can become the ruling queen. The different powers associated with each sister were especially unique and strayed from the typical “earth, wind and fire, each person controls their own element” storyline. Mirabella has the gift of controlling all elements. Arsinoe has a gift with animals and plant life. Katherine is gifted with control over poisons. Their nation, Fennbirn, has cities that are respectively associated with each of the queens, and the citizens match their gifts. When the three sisters turn sixteen, they must develop their gifts to display to their nation, and then use their powers to kill the other two sisters and compete to become the queen. Overall, the book had decent writing and the start of an interesting plot but suffered from not enough world-building and slow pacing.
Here is where the spoilers begin!
One of the strengths of this book is the different perspectives of the sisters.
Out of all three, Katherine’s storyline had the potential to be the most interesting. She was born a poisoner, the group of citizens in Fennbirn who had the reigning power for generations. The most powerful queens came from their society, and they seem to control the majority of the government. The problem is, Katherine seems to be giftless and showed none of the typical powers poisoners have. She disappointed those around her, and they struggled to decide how their families and cities will stay in power. This made her story the most interesting in the beginning, but her plot faded out a lot towards the end. It focused too much on the side characters and the politicians pulling the strings instead of describing her involvement. This made some of her chapters extremely dull.
Arsinoe and her plotline took over the majority of the book. It was interesting enough since she was seen as a “giftless” queen and the weakest of the sisters. Her experiences and friendship with Jules were refreshing, but her perspective was extremely boring until about halfway through. She gained the motivation to find ways to survive, when in the beginning of the book, she didn’t have too much hope for herself. Out of all three, her character had the most development.
Mirabella had the least interesting perspective. Her plotline suffers a little from the “rebellious princess” trope. She’s placed on this pedestal because she’s expected to succeed, but when it becomes too much for her, she runs away and puts her close friends at dire risk. I did appreciate how even though she was expected to win and kill her other two sisters, her dreams, and doubts of what her mentors told her were the moments when we saw more depth in her character. She learned that she loved her sisters, and this became part of her motivation to run away.
The biggest weakness of this book, by far, was the dull love triangle between Joseph, Mirabella, and Jules. I mean, Mira saves him from drowning and then has sex with him immediately afterward…what? Then, Joseph developed feelings for Mira who he didn’t know and virtually cheated on his childhood love interest, Jules. Look, I don’t mind a good romance plot. I actually looked forward to the courting process to see which person would become the consort to the new queen. Katherine’s love interest was also decent and had intriguing motives. I liked how Arsinoe technically had a love interest but did not decide to pursue it in favor of more important matters, like her survival since she is seen as one of the weaker queens. But the stuff between Mira, Jules, and Joseph? No. It was disappointing to see the stereotypical young adult love triangle take place in this book with such a non-stereotypical high fantasy plot.
Another negative was the pace of the book. Usually, I determine if a book has decent pacing within the first 100 pages, but the problem with Three Dark Crowns is that the plot is slow for two-thirds of the book. Even with the good, easy-to-read writing, it did not become exciting until the end, when the sisters came together for the ceremonies and the Quickening where they demonstrate their powers.
Overall, there were just too many questions and not enough answers, especially about the characteristics of each nation. Is there a hierarchy between the giftless and ones with gifts, other than among the queens? Where were the other elementals in Rolanth? Why did other gifts, like the war gift, fade away? And what exactly are the differences between the island and the mainland other than magic? The unique ceremonies and the religion were also not as explored as they could have been. The lack of world-building really harms the potential in this book.
Despite Three Dark Crown’s flaws, it ended pretty well. Since the sisters can now try to hunt down each other for the plot, I anticipate that the second book will be much better.