This review contains spoilers for the previous book in the series, Three Dark Crowns.
Previously, I reviewed Three Dark Crowns, the precursor to One Dark Throne, both by Kendare Blake. In this series, three sisters must kill each other off to take the crown of their kingdom. Each sister has a different gift: poison, nature, and the elements. I wasn’t too crazy about the first book, but I was crossing my fingers that Blake would’ve fixed some of the negatives in her second installment. So how does the sequel fare?
Well, it’s definitely better – but it’s also more of the same.
Throne picks up fairly soon after the events of Crowns, with Katharine alive and (relatively) well after her tumble into the deep and mysterious pit of the Breccia Domain, Arsinoe a hometown hero thanks to her faked performance at the Ascension, and Mirabella recognizing that the necessity of killing her sisters is becoming more real by the day. To put it mildly, these girls are a mess, but each of them is in a position to wreak some real havoc once they’ve had a chance to gather their thoughts.
One of the biggest improvements for me was Katharine’s characterization, which helped balance a previous criticism of mine: the story was, overall, not that dark. For a series in which the plot revolves around three sisters killing each other off until there’s one left, there wasn’t much blood or murder – or even plotting about murder – to hold my interest. In Throne, though, Katharine does a complete 180 and leans into her sinister poisoner upbringing. She’s dark and a little twisted; she eats handfuls of poisonous food even though she knows it’ll sicken her later, because she’s just done giving a damn.
And thank god for that, because otherwise all we’re left with is more of Mirabella wringing her hands and Arsinoe slinking around in the woods with her friends.
Speaking of which, I get the sneaking suspicion that Jules Milone, Arsinoe’s best friend, is the character that Blake really wanted to focus on during this whole story. I had this feeling while reading Crowns and that feeling only blossomed by the time I finished Throne. The amount of time, plot, and pages spent on Jules’s story could have taken up its own novella. Whole chapters were dedicated to her backstory; whole chapters deviated away from the sisters and focused on Jules and her family. If all that was intended to pad the book and make it lengthier, well, job well done. But aside from an admittedly big revelation about midway through the book, the focus on Jules, her mother, and her aunt didn’t accomplish much except highlight some serious family grudges among the Milones.
On the positive side, the plot progresses a little faster than the first book, and the sisters meet in person far more often, giving ample opportunity for them to make attempts on each other’s lives. The misunderstandings that pit them against each other are clever enough, and I like the way that Katharine is set up as the main antagonist against the other two, seeing as how both Arsinoe and Mirabella remember her being the sweet sister.
But again, I want to see evidence of what their past relationship was like. I want to see them interacting as children, during a time when they actually might’ve loved each other. It would feel more heartbreaking seeing them at each other’s throats. We’re told they used to be close, but we’re never given the chance to see it for ourselves.
Even when the sisters do come face-to-face and challenge one another, there’s not much action to kick things up a notch. There’s tension and a little white-knuckling to see what happens next, but it never lasts long enough to make an impression and before you know it, it’s on to the next scene.
Ultimately, this series is still a struggle for me to get through. Without access to the girls’ heads and thoughts, they each come off as relatively uninteresting, despite their actions. The plot is slow – so much planning, so little murder and action – and the hyper-focus on Jules as almost a main character really detracted from the rest of the story for me.
It took me a while to figure out how best to describe these books, but now I’ve figured out: they read more like scripts for a play or a movie. There’s physical action and description but not a lot of interior thought or feeling. And hey, that style might work for you, so if that’s the case, you might enjoy One Dark Throne. As for myself, I think this is the point in a series where I have to definitively say it’s not my cup of tea.
3 out of 5 stars
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