My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Length: 464 pages
Release date: 4 September 2018
Queen Katharine has waited her entire life to wear the crown. But now that she finally has it, the murmurs of dissent grow louder by the day. There’s also the alarming issue of whether or not her sisters are actually dead–or if they’re waiting in the wings to usurp the throne.
Mirabella and Arsinoe are alive, but in hiding on the mainland and dealing with a nightmare of their own: being visited repeatedly by a specter they think might be the fabled Blue Queen. Though she says nothing, her rotting, bony finger pointing out to sea is clear enough: return to Fennbirn.
Jules, too, is in a strange place–in disguise. And her only confidants, a war-gifted girl named Emilia and her oracle friend Mathilde, are urging her to take on a role she can’t imagine filling: a legion-cursed queen who will lead a rebel army to Katharine’s doorstep.
This is an uprising that the mysterious Blue Queen may have more to do with than anyone could have guessed–or expected.
“You promise,” says Mirabella. “Except that it will never be over. Because the island is not something we can escape.”
Two words: series fatigue.
Back when One Dark Throne first came out, I thought this series had a moderate to high amount of potential. Perhaps it’s a change in my reading preferences, or just the effect of a year in between instalments, but I no longer feel that way. Three books in, the Three Dark Crowns series doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It’s possible that this is one of those series where the jigsaw pieces fall into place only in the conclusion. However, you may have heard that One Dark Throne was originally intended as a duology closer despite its highly inconclusive final chapter, so I’m not holding my breath for a satisfying ending. At the very least, these books and I disagree on what ‘satisfying’ means.
With how One Dark Throne left us, I thought the mainland would open up a whole new host of possibilities. Especially as we now have a map filled with new and exciting locations, surely a recipe for success.
But nope, the mainland is just a generic Regency England. I don’t know if it’s just me who got the impression from previous books that the mainland could be our actual reality, making the series not a complete high fantasy. I think that would have been much more interesting, even if the tone of Arsinoe and Mirabella suddenly wearing t-shirts and jeans in shopping malls might clash with the rest of the books.
Back on Fennbirn, the new characters are nowhere near compelling enough to make the story fresh again. At this point it’s been the same dance for three books, and it’s getting quite old. After Book Two I gradually lost interest in the series, until the only reason I picked up Two Dark Reigns was because I’d already invested two novels’ worth of time. By now I may not bother with the last book, which will probably end on too ambiguous a note for my personal preferences anyway.
By itself, this novel was OK, I guess? As a standalone it would probably have been three stars, maybe 3.5, but as the third book of an extended story arc it’s awkward and heavily bogged down. The drama is pretty tame, despite a slightly raised body count from previous instalments, and feels more like jaded sisters in high school than ruthless queens. Jules Milone’s bare bones of a rebellion yield one or two stirring moments, not enough that you’d want to throw your life behind her.
It’s good that we finally get closure on what exactly is afflicting Katharine, who you may remember has been…not quite herself since the end of Three Dark Crowns. I was never a big fan of Kendare Blake’s intentionally obfuscating style which created drama through withheld information. It’s especially bothersome with her magic system. Magic plays such a large role in the plot, often as an unbeatable deus ex machina, to be as flaky and inconsistent as Blake writes it. In my opinion, we need a much better established system with rules and norms if magic is going to be used to win battles and turn the tides of war. Otherwise, it comes across as rather lazy writing.
Oh, and the bit of Two Dark Reigns that annoyed me the most? The ending. I can’t think of a single thing about it I liked. Talk about multiple cliffhangers that will probably be resolved in underwhelming ways at the start of the finale the same way the mainland was dealt with. Even though it generates cheap suspense, I’m not any more inclined to read the last book.
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