“We stand together now.”
The battle for the Crown has begun, but which of the three sisters will prevail?
With the unforgettable events of the Quickening behind them and the Ascension Year underway, all bets are off. Katharine, once the weak and feeble sister, is stronger than ever before. Arsinoe, after discovering the truth about her powers, must figure out how to make her secret talent work in her favor without anyone finding out. And Mirabella, once thought to be the strongest sister of all and the certain Queen Crowned, faces attacks like never before—ones that put those around her in danger she can’t seem to prevent.
In this enthralling sequel to Kendare Blake’s New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns, Fennbirn’s deadliest queens must face the one thing standing in their way of the crown: each other.
CW: animal death, violence, self-harm, loss of a loved one
In some ways, One Dark Throne manages to improve on the flaws of Three Dark Crowns. If anything, I was more engaged this time, waiting to see how the three queens would make their moves against one another, and I got more of my favorites, Jules and Arsinoe.
And yet we’re at the same rating as Three Dark Crowns, so what’s going on? How can an improved book still hover around the same star rating? Is it a weird rating system (I mean, a little; quantifying how much you actually enjoyed something is HARD and inexact)? Could it be something else was outright horrible?
Basically, it improved to some degree, but didn’t leap out at me quite yet.
In terms of the positives, I was really pleased with seeing more of Arsinoe and Mirabella, especially given the ruse Arsinoe was forced to keep up with Braddock, and given that Mirabella was forced to confront whether or not she was willing to kill her sisters for the crown of Fennbirn. Characters caught in lies they have to uphold for their own safety can rank pretty high on my list of conflict-related interests, and I can’t help but be soft on the eldest of the triplets still wanting to connect with her sisters.
We also saw more of Jules, whose gift is developing in ways I hadn’t predicted. I have to admit the revelations about her gift were pushed into the story with a bit of a heavy hand, but I still really love the position it’s put her in, not to mention what it’s going to do to her in the future. I can’t help but suspect that Madrigal has seen something in the future about Jules and about the upcoming Milone baby, and it’s going to be heavily wrapped up in the things that Jules is capable of doing.
Also, Jules seems to be the smallest character in the cast but also the fiercest, and given that my favorite characters tend to fit that mold (see: Lila Bard especially lol), is it any surprise that I love her best?
And surprise of all surprises, I liked Katharine a little more too! She’s still my least favorite queen, and I still find her lacking in agency, instead a puppet for higher forces (though those forces have shifted in a direction I’m fascinated by…), but she’s certainly more decisive and ruthless, and it’s turning her into a strong antagonist for her sisters. What happened to her at the end of Three Dark Crowns has thoroughly changed her, and it’s going to have steady impact on the story to come.
That said, there are still elements to One Dark Throne that I didn’t feel overly fond of. The pacing is still slower, which is a shame for a series based on queens fighting for the throne, and I didn’t get nearly enough interaction between the queens in the same place. They’re still largely separate, or too much focus is placed on other players in the story, and it keeps the plot from moving forward at a pace I’d be happier with.
The love interests also continue to be a disappointment. Joseph may say he’s only got eyes for Jules, but I’m tired of the focus on what happened between him and Mirabella, and I genuinely do not care what happens to him. Nicholas Martel and Pietyr are equally boring/downright awful, and while they make a good match for Katharine as she is now, I still think they’re using her for her own ends, and I generally can’t be bothered to care for that.
I’ll give Billy points for growing something of a spine, though. He’s still not terribly interesting, but at least he treats Arsinoe right, and he makes a couple choices of his own that I’m plenty pleased with, especially given the influence of his father in the Ascension Year.
But it just keeps coming back to the pacing. There are faster moments in One Dark Throne for certain, but given the crawl of the rest of the book, it feels poorly balanced, and I feel like I’m missing something. Add in the rising elements of the war gift, Katharine’s rapid charge toward the crown not entirely under her own reins, and the fact that a major character death didn’t make me feel a thing, and you end up with One Dark Throne not rating much higher than Three Dark Crowns. I also have to admit the third person present is wearing on me. As much as I love writing in third present, it creates so much distance from the queens, and in turn, that makes it harder to be torn over which queen to back in the competition for the crown. You never get in too deep in their heads, and it all seems to glide by on a surface level.
And yet I still want to know how the series ends, and what fate lies in store for the island. I suppose that’s what’s keeping me invested despite my irritations with the series’ shortcomings.
As it stands, I’d still like to see Arsinoe come out on top, even if that means upending the entire system on Fennbirn. She seems to be the only one with a life beyond the expectations of a queen, and I’d like to see her free to claim that for herself.