One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
Published September 19, 2017
Those who adored Three Dark Crowns will likely enjoy this quick-paced sequel that furthers the stories of three sister Queens pursuing a single island throne. But for those less enthused by the first book in the series, One Dark Throne offers more of the same. This includes, but is not limited to, an interesting but underdeveloped setting, continued emphasis on romance to the detriment of all other relationships in the book, and a very young and not particularly sophisticated style of writing.
I wanted to like both Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne so much more than I ultimately did. Some of this is undoubtedly dissidence with what I was hoping for and what I got. The idea behind the books, of an island that chooses its ruler from a set of triplet queens, each with a gift (naturalist, poisoner, or elemental), has so much potential. There’s an opportunity here for a fascinating examination of feminism, of powerful women being used by their elders and turned against one another and forced to kill. In Mirabella there is the promise of familial affection and sisters who decide not to play the roles that have been set out for them, but sadly One Dark Throne delivers on only a fraction of this potential because the relationships between women, for the most part, play second fiddle to romantic attraction.
Some of this is to be expected – it is YA after all and the main characters are teenagers, but there is SO MUCH ROMANCE in these books. Blake spends far more time on each queen’s feelings towards her various suitors than she does on how these sister rivals feel about each other. It’s especially disappointing because the group of male suitors are virtually interchangeable, to the point where I would have a difficult time coming up with adjectives to describe each of them!
This is going to sound harsh, but one issue I have with this series is that I don’t think it’s well-written. With their emphasis on romance and lack of worldbuilding, Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne definitely read on the young side of YA. Although set in a fantasy-esque world that draws inspiration from fairy tales and the past, Blake seems to have decided to convey this by having the two sisters raised in proper settings, Mirabella and Katherine, speak without using contractions. I suspect it’s supposed to sound formal and historical, but since the rest of the dialogue is very contemporary, I just found the lack of contractions made the characters sound stiff and unnatural. If the goal is to set Arsinoe, the wilder tomboy sister, apart from the other queens, it could be accomplished in a more effective manner, for example, by having her speak using invented slang words.
There’s also a lack of skill shown through plot twists, such as (SPOILER) Jules’ legion gift, that read like they were not planned from the start of the series, but invented for this book. I understand that the series was originally intended to be a duology and has since been expanded to a planned trilogy, which probably accounts for the awfully convenient plot turns.
I also found the sparse worldbuilding disappointing. I could excuse a lack of information about the setting and culture of Fennbirn and the Mainland in Three Dark Crowns, but I expected the second book in the series to provide a better sense of how the Island differs from the Mainland, how it came to have this unusual method of governing, and why it is split into these different factions/gifts. Instead I don’t feel like any of my questions were answered to my satisfaction. Without spoiling too much, it looks like there may be some more information that will expand the world in book three, but after nearly 800 pages do I care enough to continue reading in some vague hopes of learning more? I don’t think I do.
Despite the negative review, I want to emphasis that I didn’t hate this. One Dark Throne is still a fun, quick read, it just doesn’t build towards answers or leave me wanting more. There may be more interesting things ahead for the characters in book three, but it doesn’t feel like there’s enough story left to carry two more novels when Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne have relied so heavily on “filler” scenes.