For those who haven’t read the first two books in the Three Dark Crowns series (or the two companion novellas), the premise of the novels is pretty simple; on the island of Fennbirn, the queen of each generation gives birth to a set of female triplets. Each triplet has a unique magical gift; they may be a poisoner, an elemental, a naturalist, an oracle, or a warrior. Once the triplets pass through infancy, each is sent to live with others who share their magical talents. When they reach age sixteen, the triplets must fight to the death, for there can be only one queen. The winner is crowned, and goes on to rule Fennbirn until they become pregnant with a new set of triplets . . . thus the cycle continues. The Three Dark Crowns series is about one particular generation of triplets – Arsinoe, Mirabella and Katharine. I won’t go into what makes their generation unique, as I don’t want to give away any major spoilers, but I will say that three sisters face a whole different set of circumstances than those who came before them.
Two Dark Reigns is the third book of the series and much has happened since the triplets began their brutal battle; Katharine has found power, but at a great cost to herself, Arsinoe has uncovered an ancient secret, and Mirabella has grown to become the strongest elemental the island has seen in generations . . . yet, this far from guarantees her safety.
If I were to describe the Three Dark Crowns series in one word, I would say it’s addictive. When I began reading the first book, I didn’t even like it that much. I thought the plot was a hot mess and I was irritated that the story involved one of my least favourite tropes; the dreaded love triangle. Yet, I still found myself unable to put down the book. I was desperate to know which queen would come out on top and with each cliffhanger and plot twist, I became more curious. Thus, the series has since become one of my favourites (though I’d still argue it had a bit of a shaky start). Two Dark Reigns is arguably the strongest book of the series so far; it’s well paced, full of character development (except when it comes to Mirabella, she gets a bit neglected in this instalment) and it’s got some truly wicked cliffhangers. Like it’s predecessors, Two Dark Reigns is highly addictive, and at times brutal, yet it contains enough romance and humour for it to not be depressingly dark.
On a personal note, there’s so much about this series that I love as a fantasy fan. Firstly, the Map of Fennbirn (pictured above) is gorgeous. It’s easily my favourite book map; I’m even considering getting a tattoo inspired by it! Secondly, I love the magic system – yes I wish I was a powerful naturalist with a cougar for a familiar, like Jules. But there are also many layers to the magic of Three Dark Crowns – there’s the high magic the queens use, which stems from innate ability, but the books also feature what’s described as “low magic.” This is more like traditional witchcraft; spells created with a combination of natural ingredients and a touch of blood magic. And of course, I also adore the large number of strong, complex and varied female characters in the book. Fennbirn society seems to be fairly matriarchal, and most of the power player characters are female. Yes, the whole forcing sisters to fight to the death thing seems decidedly anti-feminist, but I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that the sisters find a way to work together and overthrow this barbaric tradition.
As I’ve said before, I’m a massive fan of this series. Thus, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to see that I’m rating it 5/5, purely because of how much joy I got out of reading Two Dark Reigns.