A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
- Author: Kendare Blake
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Brothers and Sisters, Misfits and Underdogs, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperTeen
- Publication date: September 20, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 416
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 19, 2021
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