If you like your fantasy worlds eerie, complex, and full of surprising twists, then the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake is pretty much made for you. If you’re just a fan of Taylor Swift’s Reputation era, then these are also the books for you. Three Dark Crowns hooked us right from the start, and the cliffhangers have had us anxiously awaiting each new installment of this quartet. As we get ready for the fourth and final chapter, Five Dark Fates, to hit shelves this fall, we’re obviously going back for a re-read of the first three books, and while our memories are fresh, we’re recapping you on everything you need to know leading up to the epic conclusion.
Warning: If you haven’t read Three Dark Crowns yet—we weren’t kidding about the surprising twists! If you want to avoid spoilers do NOT read further until you’ve finished Book #1!
What Happened in Three Dark Crowns?
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
• Fennbirn Island: The mysterious, magical island where it all takes place. Citizens worship an equally mysterious Goddess, and the island is surrounded by a magical mist that separates it from the mainland. It’s (supposedly) impossible for anyone to escape. Fennbirn Island is a matriarchal society ruled by a queen, but that queen is determined through a pretty grisly succession strategy. But it’s also a big island. and our three triplet queens are literally all over the map as the story begins. Which brings us to…
• Indrid Down: Fennbirn’s capital city. It’s where the main palace—called the Volroy—is located, and it’s also where the queen’s advisers—known as the Black Council—rule in her stead between reigns. Since the island has seen a succession of ruling poisoner queens, it’s basically a poisoner’s stronghold. The city is also home to Greavesdrake Manor, the Arron family home and current residence of poisoner Queen Katharine.
• Wolfspring: The naturalist city where Queen Arsione lives with her guardian-family, the Milones. It’s a bustling coastal city and the Milones are a prominent family in the community.
• Rolanth: The elemental city. Rolanth is home of the Westwoods, a powerful family who serve as guardians of elemental queen Mirabella. The city is also home to the Rolanth Temple, where High Priestess Luca and her followers live.
• The Mainland: A relatively mysterious landmass across the sea from Fennbirn. We don’t know a ton about the mainland, except that Joseph Sandrin was exiled there after he and Jules attempted to help Arsinoe flee the island as children. Each generation, all of the queens’ potential suitors are ferried in from the Mainland with the purpose of networking and establishing alliances across the sea. Also home to the one and only William ‘Billy’ Chatworth, Jr.
• Mirabella: One of the triplet queens destined to enter the fight to the death to become queen-crowned of Fennbirn Island. She’s an elemental, meaning she can control earth, air, fire, water, or weather, and is impervious to cold and heat. She’s the strongest elemental queen the island has seen in years, and believes herself to be the frontrunner in the competition for the crown. She has the support of the Rolanth Temple behind her.
• The Westwoods: The family who have been trusted with Mirabella’s care since the last queen left the island. They are also elementals, and their daughter Bree is one of Mira’s BFFs.
• Luca: The High Priestess of the Rolanth temple. She has a soft spot for Mirabella, but values protecting the ways of the Goddess and the island above all.
• Elizabeth: a temple initiate and Mira’s other closest friend. She’s a naturalist and her familiar is a woodpecker named Pepper.
• Arsinoe: Another triplet queen, Arsinoe is a naturalist—meaning she should be able to grow plants and crops, and commune with and command animals. Each naturalist also attracts a special animal companion, known as a familiar, when their powers emerge. Unfortunately, Arsinoe is still waiting for her naturalist powers to present themselves. The clock is ticking…
• The Milones: The naturalist family entrusted with raising Arsinoe. Jules Milone is Arsinoe’s ride-or-die best friend. She’s also a very powerful naturalist with a very badass mountain lion named Camden, who shares her affinity for both sassiness and defending Arsinoe.
• Madrigal Milone: Jules’s mom. She’s a naturalist, but is also a talented witch who can wield the frowned-upon low magic. Her relationship with Jules is… complicated.
• Joseph Sandrin: One of Arsinoe’s childhood best friends and Jules’s old crush. Joseph was exiled from the island after he and Jules tried to help Arsinoe sail away from the island as kids. He was taken in by the Chatworth family.
• Billy Chatworth, Jr.: A suitor from the mainland and Joseph’s foster brother. Though Billy’s father expects him to foster connections with the powerful Mirabella and politically important Katharine, he develops a soft spot for Arsinoe early on.
• Katharine: The third triplet queen, and a poisoner. She should be able to ingest any toxin and have a knack for crafting deadly concoctions to take out the other queens (or heal them but, TBH, probably not gonna happen). Despite rigorous training from the Arron family, Katharine’s powers are incredibly weak.
• The Arron family: The scary, stylish, and powerful poisoner family that pretty much runs Fennbirn Island. They helped the old queen (the triplets’ mom) rise to power, and have been managing the council in her stead as the new queens grew up. They are also raising poisoner queen Katharine. Natalia Arron is the fierce head of this family, and her sister, Genevieve, is by far the meanest.
• Pietyr Renard: Natalia Arron’s nephew, brought to Indrid Down in a bid to teach Katharine how to win the suitors over and behave with confidence and poise as queen-crowned. Pietyr himself is scheming for a seat on the Black Council.
• Sweetheart: Katharine’s pet snake, who also happens to be the best arm accessory in YA.
• The Gave Noir: Katharine’s story opens at a goth and gorgeous ball held on her 16th birthday. She’s supposed to show how powerful she is by being the first to indulge in a poisoned feast. This is also the ball where Katharine meets Pietyr. She wears a stunning black dress and tries hard to impress, but the limits of her powers are on full display when she reacts exactly how you’d expect to her poisoned feast—getting sick and passing out.
• Enter Joseph and Billy: Meanwhile, in Wolf Spring, Jules and Arsinoe are busy worrying about what Arsinoe is going to do when the fight to be queen gets underway. Since, you know, she doesn’t have powers and all. Just then, Joseph Sandrin returns, and it’s clear that he and Jules can’t deny their feelings for one another, even after all this time. He brings with him his foster brother, Billy Chatworth, Jr., a mainland resident meant to be a suitor for the future queen. He tries his best to charm the uncharmable Arsinoe, who is less than impressed.
• Madrigal starts meddling: Madrigal gets it into her head that Jules isn’t going to land Joseph without some magical assistance. She takes Arsinoe into the woods to perform a low magic love spell to bind Jules and Joseph with a magical charm. Once the spell is complete, Arsinoe feels guilty for taking away her friends’ free will and tosses the charm into the fire, which… probably won’t be sending any good magic towards Jules and Joseph.
• The love triangle: Over in Rolanth, Mirabella’s been having dreams that remind her how much she loved her sisters when they were younger. She decides, despite being the Temple’s frontrunner, that she can’t kill them. Her only option is to run away. But while she’s fleeing, she comes across a drowning Joseph Sandrin who ran into a storm at sea. She saves him with her elemental power and the two fall for each other instantly (as if by low magic’s influence…) and end up hooking up. Of course, they get busted by Jules and Arsinoe, who have come to rescue Joseph, and Rho, the temple priestess who’s come to find Mirabella.
• The bear, take one: Believing her efforts with Jules and Joseph to have been a success, Madrigal sets out to remedy the issue of Arsinoe’s powers. But rather than summoning a bear to act as Arsinoe’s familiar, the two instead attract a bear driven mad by its accidental resurrection. They survive, but Arsinoe’s face is practically mauled in the struggle. Thus she begins wearing her signature mask.
• The white-handed queen: The elementals and temple priestesses are very concerned that Mira will refuse to kill her sisters when the time comes, and debate making her a white-handed queen. A tradition brought about in generations past, a white-handed queen is crowned when a single sister is so strong, the others are unanimously captured and executed by mob rule. Natalia finds out about this plan and informs Pietyr, but swears him to secrecy. Billy’s dad, who has been conspiring with Natalia, and tells Billy about this plan in a bid to tempt him away from Arsinoe. Instead, Billy decides to sail away with Arsinoe to help her escape her fate.
• The Beltane Festival: Many on the island travel to the Beltane Festival, where the queens will show off their powers and see the suitors for the first time before the year-long tradition of trying to kill one another officially begins. After failing to show up, Arsinoe and Billy are thwarted by the magic mist and they wash up on shore. The temple tries to execute Arsinoe but Mirabella steps in, reminding her sister of how they used to love each other.
• The Quickening: To prepare for her demonstration of power, Arsinoe works with Jules and Madrigal to use low magic—combined with Jules’s powers this time—to bind a bear to Arsinoe at the festival and present the illusion of a familiar. This works… until Jules catches Joseph making heart-eyes at Mirabella during her elemental performance. With her concentration broken, the bear’s mental leash snaps and starts attacking everyone. Mirabella, still center stage, is directly in the bear’s path. Joseph saves her.
• The Breccia Domain: Before the festival, Pietyr warned Katharine that if anything should happen, she should run away and meet him at the Breccia Domain, a bottomless chasm out in the forest where the corpses of queens killed are discarded. No one, he reasons, would look for them there. After the bear attack, Katharine takes off running. Pietyr believing her to be fleeing from the temple’s “white-handed queen” attack, finds her at the chasm’s edge. In the book’s biggest twist, Pietyr throws her down into the Breccia Domain.
• Risen from the dead: The festival breaks up post-bear attack, so everyone heads to their respective homes. As the Arrons try to figure out what has happened to Katharine, Pietyr flees the capital. A week later, a disheveled, broken, and bloody Katharine strolls into Greavesdrake Manor. She delivers the bone-chilling line, “I want revenge… and then I want my crown.”
• Arsinoe’s discovery: Back at Wolf Spring, Joseph and Jules are in the middle of an awkward post-betrayal talk when Jules realizes the candy she’s been eating, thought to have been sent to Arsinoe by a supporter, is actually poisoned. Side note, do not underestimate the Arrons. Jules’s fate is left in question, but Arsinoe admits to the reader that she already ate some of the poisoned candy earlier, and felt just fine. Which means… Arsinoe is a poisoner.
And that, our friends, is where Three Dark Crowns ends. Which brings us immediately to One Dark Throne, because how can you sleep on cliffhangers like that?!