“Some people leave too much space behind when they are gone.”
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.
CW: gore, child death, animal death, loss of a loved one, violence, sexual assault, self-harm
We’re getting closer and closer to the end of Fennbirn’s story, and at last, it’s picking up. Well, at least it’s picking up to some degree. I wouldn’t have nudged it up to 3.5 stars if it weren’t improving in some shape or form, but that said, there’s still some pitfalls that the entire series seems to be feeling, and since I won’t be discussing Five Dark Fates until I can finally get my hands on a copy, now’s the time to do it.
As always, we can start on the positives! For one, I actually liked Katharine more. Wild, given how little I’ve liked her in the previous books, but in Two Dark Reigns, we’re seeing more of her as a vulnerable teenage queen warring with powers she doesn’t fully understand. She’s got the power and drive of the dead queens to contend with, and there are actually a couple of scenes where we see the Katharine that might have been shining through, horrified at the things that the dead queens have used her body for. This little bit of insight has warmed me to her somewhat, and while I’m still frustrated she spends most of her time as a pawn in someone else’s game, she’s showing hints of wanting to break free of the queens’ control and think for herself, even if it might kill her, even if it might make her a different person entirely. As far as conflicts go, I can get behind that.
On the flipside, Jules drove me absolutely up the wall this time around. I love her, and I love Camden, but she was so completely reactionary this time around, pushed around as the leading pawn in the rebellion’s game. I’m used to Jules acting on impulse and thinking for herself, and though she resisted Emilia’s plans at first, she’s starting to feel like as much of a puppet as Katharine has in the previous books, leaving me irritated to no end. Really, the thing I want most from these books is more agency from the main characters. I get that it’s a political fantasy in a lot of ways, with lots of maneuvering and no one safe to take at face value, but I’m tired of getting the sense that the main characters I’m supposed to be rooting for are the least in control and least capable of the lot.
Back to positives, though, we also get more of the island’s history via Arsinoe and her dreams of the Blue Queen, and I’m anxious to see how those revelations play out in the final book. The things the Blue Queen has revealed to Arsinoe complicate everything she knows about the line of queens, and they’re going to force her to make a decision regarding the mist that has risen on the island, sporadically rolling ashore and devouring the people it billows over. Not only that, but it’s time for Arsinoe to protect Jules instead of Jules protecting Arsinoe, and I’m keen to see how that role reversal shakes out, especially this close to the conclusion.
And in small bonuses, Billy Chatworth is less and less annoying with every step (he’s mostly just a teenage boy attempting to get through a very unusual situation involving a fair bit of violence and death tbh), and Pietyr even made some decisions I could appreciate, even if I still don’t care for him very much at all.
But then we arrive at the problem that just seems to plague this series: pacing. And distance, too, if I’m being honest. These books never seem to move at the right clip, slow when I would expect a faster pace, and flying through when I want more depth. Combined with the third person present narration that puts all the POVs at arm’s length, leaving me unable to really properly sink into any of the characters’ heads, and I’m getting frustrated with how little the characters know and how little I know by extension. I should care more about these characters. The deaths in this series should rattle me more, make me want to hurl the book at the wall or at least gasp a little. And yet I just keep turning the pages, hoping something makes me feel, well, something.
Part of me wonders if I should just DNF it all here and never pick up Five Dark Fates, but the other part of me is so curious to fully understand the magic forces at play, especially Katharine’s dead queens and the rising mist, that I can’t see myself letting the conclusion slide by without at least attempting to get through it.
It’s strange, to think Two Dark Reigns is a better book than its predecessors but to also think it has major flaws to it that prevent it from being a 100% enjoyable read. I want to know more. I have characters I like, characters I’m rooting for, and I have my suspicions about certain plot points that have yet to be resolved.
And yet I’m frustrated, and not in the good way, when you finish a book and wish there was more but also acknowledge that that’s it, that’s the end. I’m frustrated because there wasn’t enough to begin with. I’m not craving more so much as I want what should have been there.
Take that as you will, I suppose. The Three Dark Crowns series is not the absolute worst fantasy I’ve ever read. Far from it, really, given that I can think of even worse off the top of my head. And all the same, it’s hardly the best, either. Mediocre, really, aggravatingly so, and it can’t seem to escape the orbit of three stars or so.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll get my hands on Five Dark Fates and it’ll break the mold? I can only hope.