Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Three Dark Crowns - Kendare Blake

Release Date: September 20, 2016
Source: Edelweiss
Published by: HarperTeen

An early review, I know! But in case you have an ARC and are debating whether to read... or debating whether to pre-order...

Three Dark Crowns - Kendare Blake | Goodreads

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

Give this one to fans of Red Queen and The Falling Kingdoms (betrayal, Game of Thrones like political intrigue, character relationships tenuous) as well as those of Rae Carson (mix of religious elements amid the powers -- Goddess granted? What is her purpose? Has she been chosen to lead? Etc.). Yet while I make those comparisons, I can also say that Three Dark Crowns felt different from most YA fantasy we are seeing these days.

When I opened the eARC of Three Dark Crowns, I almost closed it right away. You see, I have this thing against third person present narratives. Of all the perspectives to use for a story, it is my least favorite. The last YA fantasy I read with a third person present narrative -- or really, I should say the last first chapter of a YA fantasy with a third person present narrative -- I immediately put down. It wasn't my thing. So I started out apprehensive, yet that apprehension soon faded because of the mastery with which Kendare Blake crafted her narrative.

First off, the third person present narrative makes it so that you really don't know if which queen will survive -- or really which characters in general will. I've seen that comment made of first person present too, but unless the narrative introduces a blurb by another character or is told in dual PoVs (examples of the author trying to acclimate a reader to a PoV shift), it's fairly safe to assume that the protagonist will survive. Not so with Three Dark Crowns and this choice of narrative. The present tone also gives the narrative the action-packed, tense feel that the Hunger Games had, where everything plays out in a cinematic fashion and you're there for the ride too.

Another great thing provided by the choice of third person is perspective. In fact, what I liked best about Three Dark Crowns is that it doesn't tell you how to feel about its characters. The perspective shifts so that you can see the queens in their separate areas and the lives of those closest to them -- whether they're scheming, jockeying for power, or falling in love for the first time and making foolish choices along the way. The characters feel so much more multi-dimensional because you get the internal perspective and the external-- how other queens view their rival's actions, how the adviser sees the queen and the throne, how the queen sees herself. A narrative like that could have easily told you: this character is evil while this one, oh, she's the true fighter and savior. But a character cheats despite truly loving his/her partner, and another character causes unintentional deaths due to a loss of control, and multiple characters plan deaths to better protect their loved ones (and their interests). You can decide if they're evil; the narrative won't make it easy for you. (Good book club book!). Also yesssss to a YA fantasy that legitimately has a huge character cast-- and one with characters who aren't flat, and have their own motivations, and would probably earn the right to have that comparison to Game of Thrones and its shifting alliances.

While I loved the characterization, romance, and writing in Three Dark Crowns, I can also see what might turn away other readers. First off, I think that the writing creates this really interesting atmosphere for the island and the magical powers that these families have, and the magic of triplet queens (and their history). But if you're the kind of reader who wants long, detailed explanations of how things work, or what their origin was -- how the island came to be as it is -- this world might not be your favorite. I like "going with the flow" and seeing what the narrative provides; there's still plenty of potential for expansion in the sequel and this book definitely intrigued me enough with what was present. But that may not work for all. Also, I think expectations matter a lot with regard to this book. What I remembered was the pitch: three sisters, mutual queens who have to kill each other on this remote island as a part of magical precedent. I think that I expected more to happen in this book because of that pitch -- the edited synopsis above seems more accurate to the first book. It's like in Shadow and Bone-- when Alina arrives at the palace. Did you like the court intrigue, romance, and magic practice? Then you will like the plot here. It starts off explosive, showing the queens demonstrating their powers, and then gets into their individual factions, introducing you to the characters so you can understand more of the dynamic between them and what's at stake. That middle segment is slower. And then eventually it gets to its heart-rending climax and conclusion. In that sense it does remind me of the plot structure of S&B. Personally I liked both novels.

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