As many reviewers have pointed out before me, this book has a great premise, but a lot of that is wasted on the execution of it. The degree to which you think it’s wasted varies in most of my friends’ reviews, but there does seem to be a consensus that wasted premise is the main problem. It also falls into several YA cliché-traps that I really wish it hadn’t, and just goes far enough in pushing the boundaries of the genre for it to be even more frustrating when it backs away or takes the easy way out. For me, despite the missteps, I did still like the book, and I will definitely be reading the sequels (especially since it was really ramping up there at the end after most of the rest of the book was made of set-up, but more on that below).
Since my opinion on this one seems divided, I’m going to divide the review in two as well, and bullet-point it out:
- As mentioned previously, the premise: There is a mysterious island where queens with magical powers reign. Each queen eventually gives birth to triplets, and then abdicates her throne. When the triplets come of age, only one of them will inherit the throne, and that is the one that kills the other two. Each triplet is gifted with an individual power: that of the poisoners, who can withstand most poisons and heal others; the naturalists, who bond with animal familiars, and have control over nature; and the elementals, who have control over water, wind, earth, air, etc. There are also rarer gifts: the war gift, and the sight.
- The sisters. I liked all three of them. Katharine, the poisoner who is still waiting to come into her powers, and who is weak and sickly because of it; Arsinoe, the naturalist who is also still waiting to come into her powers; and Mirabella, the most powerful queen to have born in ages, and nearly everyone believes she will end up queen. They all had unique personalities, and I really felt for them in what they were going through. I especially took a liking to Mirabella, who is the only one of her sisters to express regret for the situation they are in.
- The magic system is just cool.
- The mysteriousness of the island. For me, it teased and gave enough info in the right amount, but I’ll definitely be wanting a lot more worldbuilding info about all of this. I liked the Celtic feel to it. The climax takes place at Beltane.
- The prickly relationship between Jules and her mother, and the mystery of her Aunt Caragh. We better be hearing more about her in the future.
- I’m putting the ending and twist here on this list, but I accidentally spoiled myself for it before I even started the book, because I glanced at the last page that had important info on it. So the entire book was colored by my already knowing that SPOILERS Arsinoe was a poisoner and not a naturalist, and although we get zero answers about it because it’s a last minute twist, I immediately started theorizing in my head, and now I’m half convinced that the girls switched themselves on purpose because they loved each other, and that either Katharine is the naturalist (her affinity for her snake(s) seemed like it could be a clue or a red herring, so not sure; or she’s got the war gift instead, which hasn’t been explained yet). If that’s what happened, Mirabella is the only one who remembers. She’s the only one who remembers they loved each other at the very least END SPOILERS.
- The darkness: the poisoning scene, the sacrifices, the creepy nature of the temple and the poisoners 9the current rulers of the island in the absence of the queen). I wanted more explanation for how familiars work, but I liked what I saw.
- The story starts in the wrong place. I get why she went for starting it where she did, but that was an impulse that needed to be curbed, or at least edited. Excepting one exciting scene involving Katharine ingesting a shit ton of poison and then vomiting everywhere (this is supposed to be a show of her poisoner powers, which she fails at miserably), the first 2/3 of the book are mostly full of things that don’t advance the plot (mostly dull romances for each girl). A lot of the info we learn about the girls and the world could have been moved, and the book should have started when actual things are happening to the girls, or the girls are making things happen. The romances are almost irrelevant to anything else that is going on, and easily could have been removed or altered.
- There were a lot of characters introduced all at the same time, and though I ended up keeping them mostly straight, the amount of characters could have done with pruning, or more differentiation, or saving some characters to be introduced in later books or at later moments to pace it out. Each queen has a couple of close girl friends, several mother figures, and a love interest, as well as tertiary characters that flesh out the world. It was a lot, and the only one who really stood out was Jules, because she has a cougar for a familiar.
- And now for the romance. Blake pulls a Sarah J. Maas and lobsters all her characters up heterosexually. Added to the problem of character overcrowding, this was boring and unnecessary. I wouldn’t have minded one romance, maybe two if done really well, but four was overkill (Jules gets one as well). SPOILERS The only one I would have kept the same was Billy; it was nice he and Arsinoe just bonded emotionally and didn’t take it any further. There’s room for development down the road. There was probably a way to have Pietyr or someone else betray Katharine without the romance aspect. Their romance felt the weakest of the three, though it wasn’t my most hated. Or Pietyr’s role could have been a girl instead. The book honestly didn’t need love interests at all; there was so much else potentially going on that was way more interesting END SPOILERS. YA doesn’t need romance to be interesting. The politics and wrangling with powers or lack thereof would have been more than enough to be going on with, but if there was going to be romance as an element, it needed to be scaled way the hell back.
- Relatedly, the fucking love triangle. This is honestly one of the worst love triangles I’ve ever seen. Or is it a love quadrangle? Quintrangle? Nothing about it is pleasant or interesting. Kill it with fire. SPOILERS Nothing about what Joseph does here is sympathetic. Oh, whoops, I accidentally stuck it in her! And then kept sticking it! But I felt real bad about it! He sucks real hard, which makes Jules look pathetic for loving him so much, and it takes away from Mirabella’s badass awesomeness, although her practical reaction to knowing that he loves another girl was at least somewhat unique. That whole running away escapade could have been excised completely and the book wouldn’t have suffered. It’s also annoying that the climax hinges upon their conflict END SPOILERS.
- I assume that there is more worldbuilding coming, so I have no complaints on that front, but I am reserving space here for amended complaints in the future re: that topic, if the next three books don’t explain why this world is the way it is, and give us way more info about it. She barely scratches the surface here, mostly because she was spending so much time on pointless drama and love triangles.
- She didn’t take enough advantage of the dark premise, again, because the story started in the wrong place and wasted so much time on things that were irrelevant or annoying.
I’m not sure when I’ll have time to fit the next three books in, but I’d like to know what happens sooner rather than later.