HarperCollins, 2016 398 pages
Three Dark Crowns series #1
In a distant land at an unspecified time a special set of Triplet girls is born to each generation. Each young queen is raised separately and learns to cultivate a magical power. Once they are grown, they participate in a ceremony demonstrating their strength--and then are expected to kill the other two. Whichever young queen is left standing is the queen of the whole land. Three Dark Crowns tells three separate stories of each such queen preparing for the launching ceremony. Katharine is a poisoner, bred to ingest copious amounts of poison with no repercussions, only she struggles with this task and is constantly ill. Arsinoe is a naturalist, meant to tame wild animals and help plants to grow, only her gift has not kicked in and she must depend on unreliable black magic. Only Mirabella is truly gifted. She is an elemental, able to control the basic elements of the earth, including the weather. As the girls prepare for the big day complications ensue, including matters of the heart and shifting loyalties. All three stories come together at the end as the sisters are reunited and must compete. The showdown does not happen as expected and chaos ensues, making the path to the throne anything but clear.
This is the first book in a popular series of the same name, the third having been released last month with more on the way. A welcome break from dystopia, I enjoyed immersing myself in a believable well-visioned fantasy world with interesting characters and a brisk plot line. The plot never slows down for a moment and twists abound, holding my interest and challenging me to predict how it will all work out. The story is fresh and offers a new take on a classic genre. All three queens are drawn distinctly, sympathetically and fully realized. It is hard for the reader to choose who to root for. Minor characters are also interesting and have lives of their own. The girls are tough characters and manage to fight back from the ruling families who are determined to control them as puppets for their own means. Love interests abound and situations get messy and cross camps, making for turning pages. Themes include living your life honestly and freely, communing with nature, the power of friendship, and questions of loyalty. Readers who enjoy fantasy and fairy-tales infused with action and romance will enjoy this entertaining series, which reads fast, despite the long-ish length. The story ends with an expected cliffhanger, leading readers to the next installment.