On the island of Fennbirn, the queen births triplet girls every generation. They are separated from their mother at birth, raised together until they are six, and then sent off - not allowed to meet again until after the Beltane festival in the year of their sixteenth birthday. There is magic in Fennbirn, and each queen is born with a different gift - war, sight (which are both rare and almost extinct), poison, elemental, or naturalistic. In this generation, there is Katherine, a poisoner, Arsinoe, a naturalist, and Mirabella, an elemental. The crown is not won by one of the three through a simple display of power or through winning over the people. Rather, after the Beltane festival in their sixteenth year, an event called the Ascension Year begins. The three queens are forced to fight each other to the death - not always in conventional ways, as the previous queen won the crown by poisoning her sisters.
From early on, it is clear that the nature of everything is very dark. The queens of every generation have pale skin, black eyes, and black hair. Their ceremonial garb is black. The crowned queen’s murder of her sisters is not only seen as acceptable, but it is required and revered. Very few see the loss of a queen’s life as a true loss - knowing that two of the three girls will die in the end.
Fennbirn is cut off from the rest of the world by an unnatural mist - outsiders can enter on occasion but the queens cannot pass through. There is a common worship of the “Goddess”, who is said to be the cause of the magical gifts that queens, and sometimes the common folk, hold. Tales speak of the three queens as a gift from the Goddess - if anything, why else are they born in sets of threes every generation? This concept very interesting and this world is part of the reason why I loved the novel so much.
Before starting the book, I had been warned that it had a very slow start, but it still took me a few reading sessions to get passed the first couple chapters. The first chapter drew me in quickly, however, the chapters switch between the three queens, and for over half the book, it follows Katherine and the poisoners, Arsinoe and the naturalists, and Mirabella and the elementals (and repeat). When the first chapter ended and it switched to Arsinoe’s view, it felt very jarring. After a few chapters, once all three queens and their situations were introduced, it was a lot smoother to read.
You go into the book knowing that only one queen is supposed to survive. The author, however, does a good job in making the reader care about all three queens. I want to root for all of them, and when one is in danger, it doesn’t feel like it would be an obstacle out of the way. Instead, I don’t want them to die. I dread when the Ascension Year begins because I feel for all three queens and their situations. While the characters may want different queens on the throne for political or personal reasons, the reader isn’t looking at it from the mindset of the islanders. Why does only one get to survive? Unfortunately, there isn’t really an answer to that. It’s just the way things are. That’s how the island has always worked.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, rough start aside. Finishing the book made me wish that I’d gone ahead and picked up One Dark Throne, the sequel, as I’m not ready to leave the island of Fennbirn just yet. I have high hopes for the sequel.
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