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One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
Three Dark Crowns #2

Macmillan Children’s Books 2017
Paperback
450 pages
YA Fantasy



I remain both intrigued and puzzled by the premise of this series. This reaction, I think, is part of a larger problem: that too many writers of Young Adult books make use of hefty themes and thought-provoking issues merely as devices. Sometimes these things are reduced to mere gimmicks. Either way, the thinking that might have been provoked in readers, and the discussion that might have been had, is sidelined in favour of action, or romance. I love those things, but as I tell my students when discussing essay writing, I need some meat to chew on. There is plenty of scope in this market (the YA market) for this, but I have read way too many YA novels in recent years that all have (at least) one thing in common: they all read like Hollywood movie scripts, in prose form.

The Three Dark Crowns series is a case in point. As I said, I am intrigued by the premise – a magical island protected by mists, ruled by a queen who always, always gives birth to triplet girls. Once this goal has been achieved, the queen and her consort disappear, presumably to live out retirement on the mainland. The island is ruled by one of the factions until the girls turn sixteen, at which point a ritualistic year begins in which they each try to kill the other two so that they can take the crown. They are born with one of several elemental powers of varying strength, but as queens they appear to be nothing more than figureheads. The island is slightly matriarchal in its social structure, and culturally bound by traditions the purpose of which is rather unclear. The superficial nature of the writing means that, as I read, I feel like I am watching, instead – and not gaining those insights that books lend themselves to, often more so than films.

There’s some kind of line being blurred here, an understanding of the purpose of books and the purpose of films, as different mediums. That they function in different ways, satisfy different senses and needs in the audience. Think of film adaptations of popular novels, and how many fans of the book are upset, even outraged, by changes made (I’ve felt that way myself on some occasions). And yet, you must make changes, you can’t simply create a visual and aural representation of the novel. The same is true of books, which is why I steer clear of novels based on films – I have read a couple, a long time ago – and I spot the same style of writing here.

I’m sounding like a big ol’ grumpy bear aren’t I? ‘What’s wrong with a book big on action? What if you don’t want to read a book about heavy issues – what if you just want to read for fun?’ Yes, indeed; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all. Some genres lend themselves to that particularly well – certain crime sub-genres, for instance. But I do expect more meat from fantasy fiction, something to make the story more three-dimensional. The author’s use of present tense – a pet peeve of mine – and third person point of view doesn’t do much to help.

The three queens – Mirabelle the Elemental, Arsinoe the Naturalist and Katharine the Poisoner – do develop as characters in this volume, though still, I would argue, at a superficial level (as in, I still feel like I am merely watching them perform, rather than really understanding them). The fourth main female character, Jules the Naturalist, is still a bit of a non-entity. We learn that she has two powers and should have been killed at birth, but her character doesn’t do much more than fill space. I’m not sure where the story’s going, but like an action-packed, swiftly-paced TV show, I’d be happy to watch the next instalment to find out.

Read in October 2017

My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book.

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