Three Dark Crowns started slowly for me as I tried to get to know the large cast surrounding the main characters, three sisters fighting for the Fennbirn throne. My interest definitely began to build around the halfway point, and I especially enjoyed the shorter chapters near the very end. The climax was intriguing and exciting, yet I just had too icky a feeling in many parts of the book to give it a high rating. But it’s worth a read if you’re in the mood for a darker take on YA high fantasy.
Point of View
This book is written in third person from a variety of points of view.
This book is set in the fictional land of Fennbirn, with each of the sisters living in a different area of the country.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Three Dark Crowns?
Queen Katharine is one of three triplets, each blessed with a different gift and trained far away from each other in a different discipline. One of the three is called to conquer the other two and rule their kingdom, Fennbirn Island.
Katharine’s discipline is poison. Tonight is her sixteenth birthday. The fight against her sisters will soon commence. She is frail and weak after many years of ingesting poisons. But she must make the best showing possible at the ball thrown in her honor tonight. Natalia, the woman who raised her since she was six, announces her to the guests. The introductions begin. Katharine is graciously rescued by Pietyr, Natalia’s nephew, when he asks her to dance. Natalia calls her to the feast. She must eat the poisoned food to demonstrate her strength. Katharine eats through it as quickly as possible and impresses the crowd, but she can’t escape before the effects hit. She vomits the meal onto the table. No one will help her to her room because of this disgrace. She curls up on the floor.
Arsinoe, the second sister, is with her friend Jules and Jules’ familiar-animal, Camden the mountain cat. Jules already has her familiar (Arsinoe does not) and is a much stronger naturalist. They are called into Luke’s bookshop for sandwiches and cake. Jules is worried about Beltane and the witch battle and wants her friend to live. Luke says he’s confident she will since the goddess sent such a strong naturalist in Jules to protect her.
Arsinoe does not get a lot of respect at her birthday party. The council only sends one to attend, and the religious group doesn’t send anyone. Renata, a Black Council representative, tells the girls Joseph is returning from his banishment. They cannot believe it and wonder how much he has changed. He was banished when they were younger when they tried to sail away to save Arsinoe from her fate.
Mirabella, the third sister, is the one most likely to take the crown. Her people are excited she is set to finally conquer the poisoners. The night after her birthday, she has yet another nightmare about killing her sisters. She is summoned to the temple by High Priestess Luca. No queen has ever been favored by a high priestess quite like this. She says she has a favor to ask of Mirabella. A group of priestesses lead her to a secluded area, where a girl is ready to sacrifice her life for Mirabella.
Natalia’s nephew Pietyr comes to visit Katharine to offer an idea. He doesn’t want to Mirabella to win the crown because he thinks it will be the priestesses ruling if she wins. Pietyr wants to make Katharine more beautiful. He thinks this will make people want to fight for her (if they fall in love with her). In exchange for helping her ascend to the throne, Pietyr wants to see on the Black Council. Pietyr then goes to Katharine’s room to tell her about the plan. He promises to make her the first one that suitors think about.
Arsinoe walks with Jules to see Joseph. Jules is nervous he will be unrecognizable after five years apart. They all should’ve been punished, not just him. All hesitation vanishes when Joseph rushes towards Jules as soon as he sees her. He surprised to see Camden and discover that Arsinoe doesn’t have a familiar yet. He has people he wants to introduce them to, especially his foster brother William.
Madrigal asks Arsinoe to come on a hunt with her. Arsinoe soon discovers she called her there to help orchestrate a love spell between Jules and Joseph. She has some of Jules’ hair and material from Joseph’s clothes. At first Arsinoe agrees to help and works on the hair and material for the spell, but she begins to feel guilty and throws it in the fire. It burns with a foul smell. Madrigal is very upset.
Mirabella meets Elizabeth, a priestess with a familiar (a woodpecker). Priestesses aren’t supposed to keep their familiars once they have committed, but she did not want to relinquish it until she was sure she was going to make the ranks. Elizabeth tells Mirabella the sacrifice was Rho’s idea. Mirabella knows Rho is brutal. She also knows she will be a good ally when the battle for the crown begins.
Rho speaks with Luca because she is worried Mirabella is not tough enough. She performed the sacrifice, but she did not enjoy it. They discuss how Mirabella has to rise to the occasion because the next time a triplet rises to power they will both be long gone.
Mirabella wakes from yet another brutal nightmare about her sisters. She heads into town with her friend Bree, Bree’s mom Sara, and Elizabeth to look for dresses for the crowning. They hear Joseph has come back to Wolf Spring and has brought a possible suitor for Arsinoe. Sara has decided the suitor should meet Mirabella, too.
Katharine seems to know Pietyr’s just training her and his affections aren’t real. He’s feeding her rich foods to fatten her up, telling her how to carry herself in a crowd, and teaching her how to kiss. Pietyr says he’ll make her the only sister the suitors even notice. She teases that she will win him over, too.
Natalia is leading Katharine to the palace to poison a prisoner, a young man who killed a person he says murdered his sister. She says this man has already been tried and Katharine just needs to administer the poison. Katharine opts to do it in the cell instead of in front of an audience. She and Natalia sit with him as he drinks the poisoned wine.
Jules and Joseph are spending time together one evening. Neither wants to go home yet, so Joseph takes her to the ship he arrived on and the room he stayed in as he was sailing home. He presents her with a ring he bought her. He says it’s the type people exchange when they get married on the mainland.
Jules and Joseph set up a picnic for Arsinoe to meet William (Billy). Arsinoe knows the two need some private time, so she leads Billy to the cliffs to show him a little bit of her kingdom. He seems to really like her. She’s not sure what to think about that. He even mentions being the king consort someday. Joseph tells Jules he loved her as a child before he was sent away and then he fell in love with her while he was gone. They kiss.
Mirabella wakes from another nightmare. Luca says it’s just a dream. Mirabella thinks it’s a memory of her sisters together as friends when they were younger. She goes out to the woods and finds Elizabeth there. Elizabeth asks Mirabella to take her with her when she leaves to be queen. Mirabella agrees, although she tells her she does not have to go to the other temple; she can have choices in life.
Luca and Rho discuss Mirabella. They don’t think she has what it takes to kill her sisters even though she is extremely skilled. Rho has been digging into some old legends and making up a few of her own. She wants Mirabella to ascend to the throne as a White-Handed Queen, one who does not get blood on her hands. She wants the people to sacrifice the sisters at Beltane so Mirabella does not have to do it.
Katharine and Pietyr meet with Natalia. Natalia presents Katharine with her lost snake. Katharine is excited and takes her leave to get reacquainted. Natalia tells Pietyr the real snake is dead; this is a replacement. She reminds him not to get too involved. Natalia asks how far they have gone and tells him make sure Katharine does not fall in love with him. She is going to meet with the first candidate, Billy, soon.
Pietyr goes to check on Katharine in her room. They talk and tease about the other men she is going to meet. It’s clear they both care for each other. He talks about how she needs to use charm and humor to win the suitors over. Katharine’s new snake moves to strike whenever she makes a movement toward his cage. Pietyr quickly steps in and takes strike for her. When she goes to grab some salve for his wound, he thinks about how only a king consort is fool enough to fall in love with the queen.
Billy and Arsinoe are wandering the city and have bonded. They are talking about Beltane and the fight that will commence for up to a year after it. Additionally, they talk about when she will be introduced to the suitors and what happened to her mom after she gave birth to the triplets.
Joseph and Jules are curled up in bed, kissing and talking. He’s distracted and admits he’s going to have to leave for a couple days to return a boat to the mainland. He doesn’t want to leave her and asks her to come with him. She says she would love to but cannot bear to leave Arsinoe, especially with how she’s been neglecting her ever since Joseph returned.
Mirabella has yet another nightmare about her sisters’ and other deaths. Bree and Elizabeth hear her crying out and come to see if she’s okay. She tells them about the nightmares and what Luca would say: These dreams are trying to prepare her for what is to come. She decides she must leave Rolanth. Her friends help disguise her as a priestess. She leaves town.
Madrigal is bleeding Arsinoe and saving the blood for later. She slips and mentions what Jules’ father looks like. Then she tries to deny she remembers it. She says she might make a love potion to try to catch someone who looks like Joseph for herself. Jules finds them and is angry Madrigal’s hurting Arsinoe.
Mirabella is hungry and weary during her journey. A storm blows up. She notices a sailboat has capsized and sees a lone sailor in the water beside it. Mirabella uses her magic to save him and pull him to shore. He’s almost unconscious and cold. She uses her body heat to warm him.
Joseph’s mother had a dream about him being lost in the sea. They are all so worried, no one more than Jules. Jules, Arsinoe, and Billy go looking for him.
When Mirabella awakes the next morning, she goes outside to find the boy she spent the night with. Her first. She asks his name. It’s Joseph. He sees her for the first time in the light and realizes who she is. Joseph is so ashamed of himself, yet, unbelievably, he feels drawn to her. They try to part ways but end up spending another night together.
Arsinoe performs a low magic spell to bind Jules to Joseph so she can track him. He is walking hand in hand with Mirabella in the woods but drops her hand and runs to Jules when he spots her. Mirabella stays carefully out of sight, sadly watching the reunion of the four friends, especially Jules and Joseph. The only one who sees her hiding is Arsinoe. She pretends to drop her knife and goes back for it to talk to Mirabella. They hear horses approaching. It’s Rho coming for Mirabella. She knocks Arsinoe over and takes off with Mirabella, saying Luca isn’t pleased and they can’t start their battle yet.
Luca goes to visit Sara to push the White-Handed Queen idea. She wants Sara to spread the tale so the crowd will be ready to throw Mirabella’s sisters into the fire if needed.
There is a banquet when Billy comes to me Katharine. Pietyr has her prepped snd tells her she needs to sneak away to kiss Billy like she’s been kissing him. But Pietyr looks jealous all evening long. Katharine sneaks away like she said she would and kisses Billy. It does not feel like kissing Pietyr.
Arsinoe and Jules go shopping for dresses for Beltane. Madrigal joins them. They stop and get Joseph on the way, too. Arsinoe tells Jules she and Joseph should leave when they aren’t finding very much. Jules and Joseph go to their pond. He confesses what he did with Mirabella. Jules tells him to leave before Camden rips his throat out.
Luca wonders what happened to Mirabella while she was gone because she’s acting a little strange. Mirabella doesn’t reveal anything. She finds out what’s expected of her fire act and what she’ll wear at Beltane. Mirabella later discovers Elizabeth’s hand has been cut off because Mirabella was found with her cloak. They think she was an accomplice to the escape.
Madrigal attempts to do a spell using Arsinoe’s blood, stabbing her hand to a tree, removing the knife, and burning the tree. That night Arsinoe dreams of a big bear roaring before the burnt tree. Arsinoe wakes Jules, Billy, and Joseph and takes them to the tree. The spell was supposed to summon her familiar. She believes it is a bear. At first the bear does not appear. When it finally does, it looks old and sick. The bear attacks, injuring Arsinoe and Camden. Jules uses her great strength to basically explode the bear’s heart in its chest to bring it down. They need to get Arsinoe to a doctor quick.
Katharine, Natalia, and Genevieve talk about Arsinoe’s injury as they mix poisons. A visitor arrives for Natalia. It’s Billy’s father. They know each other quite well. He came to tell her a secret he heard from Sara Westwood. The priestesses plan to assassinate the queens before Mirabella has to. It’s easy to see the partnership the mainland has with the ruling queen. He asks what else they can do to help. Natalia says now they have the information, the Arrons will take care of the rest.
Arsinoe awakes and can feel the bandages and stitches on her face. She asks Jules for a mirror. It’s awful. Thank goodness she’s never cared how she looks. Jules goes to the docks to visit with Joseph. Billy comes to see Arsinoe and brings her flowers. She asks if her scars will prevent him from marrying her now. He says he wasn’t going to marry her anyway. Yet it’s easy to see there’s a real kinship between them.
Natalia tells Pietyr about the plan to sacrifice Arsinoe and Katharine. They vow to not let it happen. Pietyr admits he loves Katharine. He says he knows Natalia loves her, too.
Billy brings a picnic lunch for Arsinoe. He shares the news of the sacrifice they’re planning at Beltane for her and Katharine. She doesn’t believe it will happen. Billy does and wants them to head to the mainland. He will take her there on his ship. She can stay with his mother and sister until he can return home.
Mirabella is now at her encampment for Beltane. She talks with Bree and Elizabeth about whether Arsinoe is really gone, as they’ve heard.
Katharine is at her encampment. Pietyr sneaks food in for her. They kiss. Katharine can tell there’s something different about his touch; it feels desperate and sad. She assumes it’s because she might have a king consort soon.
Jules and Joseph are ready to hunt. Joseph asks Jules to paint him. She put matching lines of black on their chests and faces. He asks for her handprint over his heart, too. She kisses him. Afterward, she feels like it was a mistake. He asks if she will ever forgive him. She says they can’t think about it right now and if it doesn’t end up working out, then it wasn’t meant to be.
Pietyr takes Katharine to the Breccia Domain, where they throw the sisters who lose during their ascension year. Katharine is fascinated by it. Pietyr thinks it’s morbid. Katharine thinks the hole is so deep that those who have been thrown into it must still be falling. She kisses Pietyr and knows they will be stealing many kisses in the coming days.
The hunt begins. Jules and Joseph get separated. Bree and Elizabeth take out Mirabella’s guards so the three of them can go watch the hunt. Mirabella hears Joseph’s voice calling for Jules. She finds him instead. She moves in close and kisses him. She asks if their nights together mattered to him. He says he wishes they didn’t but they do.
Natalia hints at the sacrificial plan to Katharine. She tells her the food she will eat will not be poisoned and to eat her fill. Natalia wants to prove how strong Katharine is to everyone.
Jules is disgusted to find her mother is sleeping with her Aunt Caragh’s former beau Matthew. She runs into Luke, who is bringing a dress Arsinoe commissioned for Jules before she left. They hear a disturbance up ahead. It’s Arsinoe. She was caught and brought to Beltane.
The Black Council holds Arsinoe’s trial for trying to escape. Before they can punish or execute her, Mirabella summons a storm and scares everyone away. She wishes this would kindle some friendship with Arsinoe. Arsinoe just says she hates her a little less and leaves.
When Jules gets Arsinoe back to their encampment, Arsinoe shares the news about the sacrifice. They think if they can make her look strong, then the crowd won’t want to sacrifice her. Jules thinks she should call the black bear she sought in the woods and control it, making it look like it’s Arsinoe’s familiar. Joseph’s worried. Madrigal thinks it could work. Joseph asks what he can do to help. Jules says he needs to stay away. She doesn’t want anything that could break her concentration.
It’s time for the disembarking, when each of the suitors row ashore and present themselves to the queens for the first time. The first four don’t give Arsinoe a full bow. Then Billy comes last and only bows to her.
Natalia and Pietyr are both sad that they don’t get to eat poisoned food at this feast. She tells him her plan to serve Katharine untainted food to show her strength. Pietyr is glad they have a plan to try to save her but isn’t sure it will work.
Luca and Rho look at the delivery of knives. They are sharp, ancient ones. They need them to work very quickly when they try to take out Arsinoe.
Arsinoe asks Joseph and Jules to go find Billy and bring him to them. She doesn’t think there’s any reason he needs to stay away. They find Billy and take him some food. Even though he wants to, he can’t separate and choose one queen right now. Jules leads Joseph to her tent and wants to be intimate, just as they had always planned to do on the night of Beltane. Joseph apologizes and says he just wants to hold her tonight.
Pietyr makes Katharine promise if anything seems out of sorts, she will meet him at the Breccia Domain. She asks whether he trusts his aunt. He says he does, but he still thinks things can go wrong. She promises to come to him if need be.
Bree and Elizabeth help dress Mirabella for the night, just a cloth over her breasts and one over her hips. Fire will cover the rest of her. The three girls discuss how the priestesses are acting strange. There’s something in the air they can’t put their finger on.
Madrigal asks Arsinoe whether Jules told her she saw her with Matthew. Arsinoe didn’t know but is disgusted. Madrigal is working on another low magic potion, this one with water, Arsinoe’s blood, and the bear’s blood. When they get the bear’s blood, Arsinoe will have to drink it. It won’t mean it’s her familiar, but they should be linked. She’s shocked to see a crowd of her people have assembled to watch her after Luke spreads rumors about her bear.
Both Katharine’s and Arsinoe’s demonstrations go well: Katharine’s poisoned meal and Arisone’s bear. The priestesses know it’s a ruse somehow and still want to proceed with the sacrifices.
Mirabella starts her fire dance. The crowd is entranced, no one more than Joseph. Jules scans the crowd for him, hoping he is watching her and proud of her power in holding the bear. Instead, he is watching Mirabella with a lustful look he has never had for Jules. Jules’ hold on the bear slips. The bear tears around everywhere and finally sets his sights on the girl on fire…Mirabella. Joseph jumps on stage and covers her with his body. Just before the bear attacks, it rears up and begins pawing at its face like it’s in pain.
Most (but not all) people in the crowd escape. They want to make sure all queens are accounted for. The one they can’t find is Katharine. She’s not among the fallen, though, so they know she’s out there somewhere. Mirabella keeps saying she can’t believe Arsinoe sent the bear after her. Joseph tries to comfort her until the priestesses order him away. The quickening has ended, and the ascension year has now begun.
Katharine is running through the woods to Pietyr, just like he told her to. When she finds him, they hold each other. He calls the priestesses bloodthirsty and says he wasn’t supposed to fall in love with her. Katharine is surprised by his declaration but returns it. Then he pushes her into the Breccia Domain pit.
Search parties scour the area for Katharine to no avail. Luca visits Natalia and tells her she knows the food Katharine ate wasn’t poisoned. She also says one of the delegations fled with the suitor tow. They want to punish Arsinoe for beginning the battle a day early with the bear attack. But it was such a show of strength they know the public will react poorly if they punish her.
How did Three Dark Crowns end?
Mirabella discusses the attack with Bree and Elizabeth as they ride home. Elizabeth say the naturalist would have to be unbelievably strong to do this. She tells them about who her protector (Joseph) truly is. They wonder if he will protect her again since he’s friends with Arsinoe. Mirabella doesn’t want to put him in that position and is under no illusions anymore. She is ready to kill her sisters when she has the chance.
Pietyr aided in the search for Katharine and has one last drink with Natalia before he heads home. He has nothing more to do here. Pietyr was so convinced they would have Katharine’s head at Beltane because of the sacrifice they had planned. He never thought Arsinoe would come into play. Pietyr leaves. One day, a girl appears in the foyer. Natalia doesn’t recognize the dirty girl in a ruined dress at first. It is Katharine. She says she wants revenge and then her crown.
Billy comes to visit Arsinoe and brings a box of chocolates his father sent. Joseph walks up and says he needs to see Jules to talk to her about what happened. Arsinoe is angry with him and accuses him of possibly choosing Mirabella over her someday. She goes to put the candy up and tells him she’ll find Jules for him.
While Jules and Joseph talk and argue, she eats one of the chocolates from the box and begins fading. It is poisoned. Jules barely pulls through. Joseph is horrified and vows to be by her side forever now. When Arisnoe comes to visit her, she shares some surprising news with her. She ate several of the chocolates before Jules did, not realizing they were poisoned. And they didn’t bother her at all. She’s a poisoner.
There you go! That’s what happened in Three Dark Crowns, the first book in this series.
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