Three Dark Crowns
by Kendare Blake
read in February 2017
review contains minor spoilers!
Three Dark Crowns is already my biggest disappointment of 2017! Well, at least I hope that’s going to stay that way, since I can’t handle another let-down like this.
Let’s start with what I did enjoy about this novel. I was absolutely loving this at first, so it’s not all bad:
The first chapter is one of the best first chapters I have ever read. It was so dark and I was immediately interested to find out more.
Three Dark Crowns features so many female friendships! I love it when girls support other girls. Having said that, those friendships became less important once the male love-interests were introduced. Furthermore, I’m so disappointed we didn’t get a single F/F romance! Yes, female friendships are very important, but we need more female relationships in books as well.
On paper, this was supposed to be one of my favourite books: it has multiple point-of-views, is character-driven and is written from the third person perspective. And at first, it seemed like Three Dark Crowns was going to be amazing! Until the male love-interests were introduced. Then it all went downhill. So let’s talk about what I didn’t like:
First and foremost, the romance absolutely ruined this book for me. I’m critical of cishet romances as it is, but Three Dark Crowns took insta-love and love-triangles to the next level.
About one hundred pages in, Pietyr vows to help Katharine seduce her male suitors. First of all, why does her plot have to revolve around men? Second of all, they instantly fall in love. We never saw their relationship develop. On top of that, it seemed as thoughhe was her pimp, because he is going to teach her “skills for the bedroom”. They even got turned on when they found out the other cheated:
“It is our lot. To drive each other made with jealousy. You will kiss a suitor, and I will kiss a priestess, and it will make your fire for me burn even higher.”
Pietyr was an unlikeable love-interest. I really didn’t care about him and once he and Katharine got closer, I didn’t like her anymore either. He was so possessive. I didn’t even realise a man had touched Katharine until Pietyr lost his shit:
“Best to stay inside, my queen,” he says, and places his huge mits on her shoulders to move her back through the flap. “Take your hands of her.” Pietyr steps between them and shoves Bertrand away.
I really wonder whether the author wants us to swoon over these male love-interests. Because Pietyr was bad, but Joseph was ten times worse!
First of all, I don’t understand where the relationship between Joseph and Jules came from. They were eleven years old when they had last seen each other! Five years later, they finally see each other again, and they instantly become a couple. This world is incredibly heteronormative. I just can’t get behind a relationship that supposedly started when the characters were merely eleven years old.
That wasn’t the worst thing though. He cheats on his girlfriend multiple times, though there are zero consequences. Both women are still in love with him! Both are more angry at the other woman than at the actual cheater! People praise this book for feminism (because the island is lead by a queen), but I don’t consider this feminism at all.
That must have been one of the worst love-triangles I’ve ever read. Are we supposed to care who he ends up with? Are we supposed to love Joseph as a character? Hell no. I’m not here for that.
On top of that, the romance was so cringe-worthy. Joseph has sex with a woman (don’t worry, I won’t spoil who it is) after saying one sentence to her. Afterwards though, they’ve completely fallen in love. How is that even possible? You don’t even know each other! You didn’t even know each other’s names by then!
Obviously, reading about cheating pisses me off. But to make things worse, Joseph doesn’t even feel bad about being such an asshole. This is what he thinks:
They walk hand in hand. No matter how slow they walk, they must soon part. Neither can put it off any longer. Joseph will return to Wolf Spring. To his girl, and to where he belongs, and this strange interlude will be over. But not forgotten.
Even if he had shown remorse, he is still a piece of shit. Because he cheats on his girlfriend multiple times. Even after she has found out and she forgave him, he didit again. I seriously wonder whether the author wrote him intentionally as an asshole, or whether she thinks we are rooting for them. When his girlfriend finds out once more that he is still attracted to the other woman, he blames her for losing control, which caused people to die. He doesn’t even apologize. Oh man, I have to move on from this topic because this has turned into a rant.
The romance is so badly written. We have no idea why these characters are attracted to each other. Take Pietyr for example. He is introduced as power-hungry and ambitious, but instantly falls in love with Katharine. That is ridiculous. And lazy writing, because we don’t get to witness any relationship development.
By the end of the book, I was only rooting for one queen. Honestly, I was rooting for Mirabella the most since the very start and my opinion never changed. Like I’ve said, Katharine completely changed when she got involved with Pietyr. She looked forward to killing her sisters and even kills a child! Arsinoe is, in my opinion, the least interesting queen, though she had the most chapters. And Jules, who is her best friend, has as many chapters as the queens. Which I don’t really understand. Anyway, for a long time, I did like Arsinoe, but she does a lot of stupid things, which never had any consequences.
Though at first this seems original, the romance is so trope-y and Kendare Blake clearly found inspiration in other works, such as A Song of Ice and Fire and Tristan and Isolde. The whole beach scenes is a complete copy from the latter, and it’s also similar to Matthias and Nina’s storyline in Six of Crows. The character Pietyr is essentially Petyr Baelish. I was laughing so hard! The author didn’t even bother to give him an entirely different name! But please, read the next scene and tell me that isn’t exactly what Petyr did to Lysa Arryn:
Pietyr steps back. He holds her gently by the shoulders. “Pietyr?” she asks. “I am sorry,” he says, and then he throws her. Down, down, down into the bottomless pit of the Breccia Domain.
I probably should’ve put this at the top of my review, but the book contains triggers for multiple animal deaths, self-harm (because low magic includes cutting oneself) and possibly racism. I am a white person, so I am absolutely no expert on racism. But if even I see some red flags, there might be something there. This novel is written by a South Korean-American woman, so I realise I am totally going out of my lane here. However, I posted about this on Twitter and Anjulie Te Pohe, who pointed out the racism in Nevernight, and who is Māori, told me that it does sound like a rip off of Indigenous cultures.
I am terrible with character descriptions, but as far as I know, the Naturalists aren’t people of colour (nor are the other two groups). Yet they hold fire dances, decorate their bare chests with paint before hunting, have feathers braided in their hair and have familiars, which are companion animals. The latter seems very similar to the spirit animals of Native Americans. In my opinion, this is appropriation of Indigenous cultures. And on top of that, the Naturalists are described as ‘wild’ multiple times. The other groups certainly look down on them. The word ‘savage’ is used as well in the book, though I don’t think it was used to describe any characters. Still, the word carries a negative connotation.
I searched for other reviewers who mentioned this, but couldn’t find any. Please leave a link to reviews which discuss the cultural appropriation in Three Dark Crowns if you know any.
Okay, back to what I am able to judge: the pacing. A lot of readers called this book boring, which is actually the main complaint I’ve seen. I can handle that, because I prefer character-driven stories, though I am so angry we still do not know who the queen is! Having finished this book, I doubt whether anything that did happen, has any effect on what is going to happen next.
I also found this book predictable. This is supposed to be about political intrigue, yet there were no twists and turns. Expect for the very last sentence, but it was an obvious plot twist. Though I didn’t think the author did the best job foreshadowing it. It wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t subtly hinted at either.
Clearly, I did not enjoy this book. However, there is a big chance I will read the sequel (if this is a duology), because I am interested in finding out who becomes queen. And I don’t want there to be any compromise and have them all rule in the end. Maybe I’ll just read some spoilers so I don’t have to read the entire thing instead.
conclusion: Even though Three Dark Crowns started out strong, I ended up disliking it very much. The romance was badly written, as was the pacing and political intrigue. On top of that, there is cultural appropriation of Indigenous cultures.