Three Dark Crowns, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Three Dark Crowns, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Thrilling but very dark tale of murderous triplet queens.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 11 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Poisoners create concoctions of real poisons: arsenic, hemlock, certain mushrooms, various venoms from snakes and scorpions, and more.

Positive Messages

Few positive messages, with three sisters who intend to kill each other and each clan using its influence to manipulate the queens to create mistrust and hatred. Still, somewhere under this violent power struggle mercy, love, and understanding.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The three queens are under much pressure to develop their gifts and defeat the other queens. They all deal with being trapped in this violent power play in different ways: Katharine learns to play the game, turning on the charm to win hearts. Arsinoe is strong-willed and plain-spoken; she dabbles in dangerous magic to improve her skills. Mirabella's conscience is the most troubled by the thought of murdering her sisters.


The three main characters are charged with killing each other to gain power. One sister is supposed to have the gift of poisoning and is trained to withstand poisonings; she often becomes very sick because of the training. A boy prisoner is poisoned, and there's plenty of talk of other victims: past queens, assassinations, even animals. One vivid description of past poisoning executions where people spasmed so much they broke their backs. Bears maul with major injuries and some deaths. A description includes "loops of entrails." A hand is cut off as punishment; another hand is stabbed through the middle and stuck in a tree as part of a ritual; other bloodletting and some blood drinking in rituals; a push off a cliff; talk of beheadings and arms chopped off; a near drowning; a willing human sacrifice. Violent dreams include deaths by ears being cut off, drowning, and more.


Sex described as kissing and bodies on top of each other. A teen boy is charged with teaching one of the queens to kiss and be alluring to future suitors; he's told she should have skill but still be a "maid." An adult recalls wanting to conceive during a festival and not caring or remembering who the father was.


"Damn" a few times.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The Poisoners have parties with tainted champagne, brandy, and honey wine. Katharine, 16, drinks the tainted wine. Talk of teens getting drunk on ale and of all the drinks meant to be handed out at the big festival.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Three Dark Crowns is the first in a fantasy series by the author of the acclaimed horror novel Anna Dressed in Blood. With the plot centering on 16-year-old triplet queens destined to murder each other in an attempt to rule, this dark gem is best for high school readers and up. The fractured way the story builds at the beginning also will make it harder for less practiced fantasy readers to follow. One queen is supposed to have the gift of poisoning and is sick often as she's trained to withstand poisonings. A boy prisoner is poisoned, and there's plenty of talk of other victims: past queens, assassinations, and even animals. A description of one bear-mauling death includes "loops of entrails." A hand is cut off as punishment; another hand is stabbed through the middle and stuck in a tree as part of a ritual; and there's a push off a cliff, talk of beheadings and arms chopped off, a near drowning, and a willing human sacrifice (we're spared much description). Teens drink wine and spirits, are sometimes poisoned on purpose, and have sex (with little described besides kissing). A teen boy is charged with teaching one of the queens to kiss and be alluring to future suitors. These queens are caught up in a play for power with very little control over their magical gifts or their destinies. They find different ways to manage the pressure, some healthy, some destructive. One queen even has the dangerous audacity to want to show mercy to her sisters.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBeclee101 November 24, 2018

Very good story line and engrossing

I felt this book was very good and engrossing. That being said I am not completely sure I will read the sequel, except when I have a lull in time. The storyl... Continue reading
Adult Written byJulie P. May 6, 2020

Loved It!

This book is amazing! For parents, there is no swearing (win win!) but some violence. If your child can handle stabbing, severing hands, light talk of violence... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLil Gill November 10, 2018


I loved this book I think it is suitable for ages 11 and up. The idea of the book is a bit creepy but the story line keeps you saying just one more page.
Teen, 13 years old Written byeemeraldd August 27, 2017

So Good!!

I LOVED this book! It is a little slow at the beginning and the middle, so if you like fast-paced stories then this one might not be for you. It's also a b... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THREE DARK CROWNS, three queens -- triplets Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabella -- are busy preparing for their 16th birthday. There'll be the usual three parties, because they were separated when they were six years old. Katharine, who lives with those gifted in their immunity to poisons, will feast on a poison banquet to show her strength -- a strength she has yet to acquire. Arsinoe, who lives in a community of naturalists, will show off her familiar, an animal she desperately hopes arrives to claim her in time to show her strength. And Mirabella will dazzle her town of elementals by summoning the weather to do her bidding. Mirabella is the strongest and most likely to impress a crowd. The priestesses in the temple want to declare her the next true queen. But to claim the throne, tradition dictates Mirabella must kill both her sisters within the year -- before they kill her.

Is it any good?

With triplet queens out to kill each other, this may not be a book to share with sisters, but if you're into dark, complex, nail-biting fantasy, you'll definitely share it with your friends. Three Dark Crowns will take an effort for some readers to piece together, as each queen's story is told separately. We meet Katharine first in a house full of Poisoners who regularly indulge in tainted banquets. Sickly from the lack of the immunity her gift should provide but still desperate to please, she gives off the creepiest vibe. Arsinoe takes longer to reach the same dark place; the desperate queen is slowly coerced into some shady magic practices to compensate for her weak gift. As for Mirabella, it's the bloodthirsty, cunning priestesses who add a delicious level of dark.

Each of the rites and rituals the queens endure -- the birthday parties, the festival of Beltane, the selection of the suitors, the Quickening -- are expertly woven into the story. Readers get the slow reveal of just what these doomed queens are up against. Will you root for the survival of one queen the way the towns do? For the small chance in this macabre world that mercy will rule out in the end? Even a reader's allegiance may shift with the cliffhanger at the end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the jarring premise of Three Dark Crowns. Is it hard to watch sisters potentially turn on each other that severely? Do you expect them to ever trust each other when tradition dictates hate and mistrust?

  • Each queen finds a way to cope in a situation full of expectations none of them fully wants to fulfill. What are their ways to cope? Whom do you think handles the pressure best?

  • For those not used to reading darker fantasies, will you keep reading this series? Why, or why not?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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