Kendare Blake is definitely gifted in the art of world creating. The island of Finbirn as she paints it in her prose is vivid, pulsating and easy to imagine.
Three Dark Crowns is the story of triplets of royal lineage living on a secret island where the ascension to the throne is determined by which triplet kills their siblings first.
This Young Adult novel, fantasy of course, follows the lives of these three sister, Mirabella, Arsenoe and Katherine, each possessing their own magical gift. Mirabella is an elemental, she has the gift of the elements, she can instruct and command them, fire, water, wind, earth you name them.
Arsinoe is a naturalist, she is one with nature, can control animals, plants, and all things relating to nature. Or at least she should.
Katherine is a poisoner, no matter how much or how strong a poison she takes, it can never kill her. At least it shouldn’t. Part of her gift includes being good at poisoning others, and knowledge of different poisons.
These are the basics we learn at the start of the book, before the dance of survival ensures.
The way of the island is that once the presiding queen gives birth to triplets she ends her rule. The queens (as the triplets are called) are taken from her care when they turn 6 and are raised by foster families in the communities that possess their gifts across the island.
Mirabella is raised by the Westwoods, her foster family are strong elementals. Likewise Arsinoe is raised by the Milones who are strong naturalists and Katherine by the Aarons who are strong poisoners.
They raise and groom them to one day take over the throne. The battle for the throne is not only between the triplets but their foster families as well. If their queen wins the throne they become the most powerful family on the island, literally ruling it beside the queen, and their magic also becomes stronger. For a number of reigns now the poisoners have ruled, making them the strongest community on the island, and the Aarons therefore the most powerful family.
We catch the triplets on their 16thbirthday, which also marks the start of the year of ascension. From the get go we are steered towards who is weak and who is strong. Blake dangles power like a temptation throughout this story.
She also tackles a number of other themes such as love, infatuation, ambition, beauty, jealousy, friendship and other human traits.
Three Dark Crowns is spellbound with tension, conflict and suspense. Blake has done a good job of keeping the reader enthralled with each chapter. The story is told from three perspectives, those of the three main characters and their families. It is not an easy design for narrating any story but Blake has weaved it together seamlessly.
This is one of those books that questions rules laid out before us in society, where it seems we have no choice but to tow the line with little or no explanation. We get to reawaken our own agency as we travel this beautiful story, rooting for our favourite queen to win.