If you haven’t yet discovered the remote and magical island of Fennbirn, get ready. Three Dark Crowns, a YA fantasy novel about triplet sisters who must battle it out for the crown and right to rule their homeland, debuted last September and spent seven weeks on the NYT bestseller list.
The book made such waves, author Kendare Blake has been contracted to extend the series from two books to four, and the first entry in the series has already been optioned for film by Fox, with Arrival and Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy attached.
“It’s been incredible seeing the way readers have responded,” author Blake said in a statement about the enthusiasm for her series and the expansion of the story. “The world of Three Dark Crowns is big, with hundreds of years of queen history, and there was always more story for the characters who survive the first books. I’m really happy that I get to stay in Fennbirn a while longer and tell it.”
While the second book in the series, One Dark Throne, doesn’t come out until this coming September, EW has an exclusive excerpt from the book, below.
Excerpt from One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake
Natalia Arron oversees her younger sister’s move back to Greavesdrake with a critical eye. Genevieve was banished from the house for only a few months. If one were to judge by the endless line of trunks the footmen carry through the front door, you would think she had been gone for years.
“It will be good to sleep in my own bed again,” Genevieve says. She inhales deeply. The air at Greavesdrake smells of oiled wood, and books, and savory, poisoned stew bubbling in the kitchen.
“Your bed in town is also your own,” says Natalia. “Do not act as though it were a hardship.”
Natalia studies her little sister from the corner of her eye. Genevieve’s cheeks are rosy pink, and her lilac irises sparkle. Long, blond hair tumbles past her shoulder. People say she is the beautiful Arron sister. If they only knew what wicked thoughts whirled inside that pretty head.
“Now that you are home,” says Natalia. “Prove yourself useful. What is the Council whispering?”
“The story has been told as you instructed,” Genevieve replies. “That Queen Katharine survived Queen Arsinoe’s attack with the bear and cleverly went into hiding until all was deemed safe. But they have still heard the stories.”
“Nonsense, mostly.” Genevieve waves her hand. But Natalia frowns. Nonsense becomes truth if enough mouths repeat it.
“What sort of nonsense?”
“That Katharine did not survive at all. Some actually claim to have seen her die, and some say that they saw her as she made her way home: gray-skinned and covered in mud, with blood running from her mouth. They have been calling her Katharine the Undead. Can you imagine?”
Natalia barks laughter. She crosses her arms. It is ridiculous. But she still does not like it.
“But what did happen to her, in the days that she was missing?” Genevieve asks. “Do even you not know?”
Natalia thinks back to that night, when Katharine returned, covered in dirt and bleeding from a dozen cuts. Mute in the foyer with filthy black hair hanging over her face. She had looked like a monster.
“I know enough,” Natalia says, and turns on her heel.
“They say she has changed. How has she changed? Is she strong enough yet to return to her poison training?”
Natalia swallows. Poison training will not be necessary. But she says nothing. She inclines her head and leads Genevieve down the hall, looking for Kat so that Genevieve might see for herself.
They walk together deeper into the manor, where the light is softened by drawn curtains and the sounds of the footmen laboring beneath Genevieve’s trunks fade.
Genevieve tucks her traveling gloves into the pocket of her breeches. She looks very smart in her soft, brushed carnelian jacket. She claps at imagined dust on her thigh.
“So much to do,” she says. “The suitors will arrive any day.”
Natalia’s mouth twists up at the corner. Suitors. But only one requested first court with Katharine. The golden-blond boy, Nicolas Martel. Despite Katharine’s strong showing during her Beltane poison feast, both of the other suitors had elected to pursue Arsinoe.
Arsinoe, with her scarred face, trousers with frayed cuffs, and shorn, unkempt hair. No one could be attracted to that. They must be curious about her bear.
“Who would have thought our queen would have only one request?” Genevieve says, reading Natalia’s sour expression.
“It does not matter. Nicolas Martel is the finest of the bunch. Were it not for our long alliance with Billy Chatworth’s father, he would be my top choice.”
“Billy Chatworth has been lost to the Bear Queen,” Genevieve mutters. “The whole island knows that.”
“Billy Chatworth will do as his father commands,” Natalia snaps. “And do not call Arsinoe the Bear Queen. We do not want that to stick.”
They turn the corner past Katharine’s staircase.
“She is not in her rooms?” Genevieve asks as they pass by.
“You can never tell where she is anymore.”
A maid carrying a vase of white oleander blooms pauses to drop a curtsy.
“Where is the queen?” Natalia asks.
“In the solarium,” the girl replies.
“Thank you,” says Genevieve. Then she yanks the girl’s cap off her head to reveal dark brown roots beneath fading Arron-blond dye. “Now go and tend to your hair.”
The solarium is bright and open, with many uncovered windows. White paint on the walls, and multi-colored pillows on the sofa. It hardly belongs in the Arron house and is usually empty, unless they are entertaining guests. But Natalia and Genevieve find Katharine inside humming, surrounded by wrapped packages.
“Look who is home,” Natalia says.
Katharine presses a lid onto a pretty purple box. Then she turns to face them, smiling broadly.
“Genevieve,” Katharine says. “It is good to have you and Antonin at Greavesdrake again.”
Genevieve’s mouth hangs open. She has not seen Katharine since the day after she returned. And Katharine was such a mess then. Still filthy, and with so many fingernails missing.
As she stares at Katharine now, it is not difficult for Natalia to guess what she is thinking. Where is the little girl with her large foolish eyes and tightly braided bun? The skinny girl who bows her head and only laughs after someone else laughs first?
But wherever that Katharine is, it is not here.
“Antonin,” Genevieve murmurs once she finds her voice. “He is already here?”
“Of course,” Natalia replies. “I asked him back first.”
Shocked as Genevieve is by the sight of the queen, she does not even pout. Katharine sweeps forward and takes her by the wrists, and if she notices the way Genevieve recoils at the sudden, uncharacteristic gesture, she does not show it. She simply coils her fingers and drags her farther into the room.
“Do you like my presents?” Katharine asks, gesturing to the packages. They are all beautiful, wrapped in colored paper and tied with satin ribbon or large white velvet bows.
“Who are they from?” asks Genevieve. “The suitors?”
“Not ‘from,’” Katharine says. “But for. As soon as I have put on the last loving touches, they will be dispatched to Rolanth, for my dear sister Mirabella.”
Katharine caresses the nearest bit of ribbon with a black-gloved finger.
“Will you tell us what is inside them,” Natalia asks, “or must we guess?”
Katharine tosses a tendril of hair over her shoulder. “Inside she will find many things. Poisoned gloves. Tainted jewels. A dried chrysanthemum bulb painted with toxin, to bloom into poisoned tea.”
“This will never work,” Genevieve says. “They will be checked. You cannot kill Mirabella with prettily wrapped poison presents.”
“We nearly killed that naturalist with a prettily wrapped poison present,” Katharine counters in a low voice. She sighs. “But you are probably right. These are only a bit of fun.”
Natalia looks over the boxes. There are more than a dozen, of various sizes and colors. Each will likely be transported individually, by separate courier. Those couriers will be changed several times, in different cities, before arriving in Rolanth. It seems a lot of trouble to go to for just a bit of fun.
Katharine finishes inking a gift tag with dark stars and swirls. Then she sits on the gold-and-white brocade sofa and reaches for a plate of belladonna berries. She eats a handful, filling her cheeks, mashing them with her teeth until the poison juice shows at the corners of her lips. Genevieve gasps. She turns toward Natalia, but there is no explanation to give. When Katharine recovered from her wounds, she turned to the poisons and began to devour them.
“There is still no word from Pietyr?” Katharine asks, wiping juice from her chin.
“No. And I do not know what to tell you. I wrote him immediately after you returned, to summon him back. I have also written to my brother inquiring about what is keeping him. But there has been no response from Christophe either.”
“I will write to Pietyr myself, then,” says Katharine. She presses a gloved hand to her stomach as the belladonna berries take effect. If Katharine’s gift had come, the poison should not cause her pain. Yet she seems able to bear more than she ever could before, taking in so much that every meal is like a Gave Noir. Katharine smiles brightly. “I will have a letter ready before I leave for the temple this evening.”
“That is a good idea,” Natalia says. “I am sure you will be able to persuade him.”
She motions to Genevieve so they might leave the solarium. Poor Genevieve. She does not know how to behave. No doubt she would like to be mean, to pinch the queen, or slap her, but the queen before them looks like she might slap right back. Genevieve frowns, and drops a lazy curtsy.
“Has her gift come, then?” Genevieve whispers once she and Natalia have mounted the stairs. “The way she ate those berries. But I could feel that her hands were swollen through the gloves. . . .”
“I do not know,” Natalia replies quietly.
“Could it be the gift developing?”
“If it is, I have never seen any gift develop similarly.”
“If her gift has not come she must take care. Too much poison . . . she could harm herself. Damage herself.”
Natalia stops walking.
“I know that. But I cannot seem to stop her.”
“What happened to her?” Genevieve asks. “Where was she for those days?”
Natalia thinks back to the shadow of a girl who walked through her front door, gray-skinned and cold. Sometimes she sees the figure in her dreams, lurching toward her bed on the stiffened limbs of a corpse. Natalia shivers. Despite the warmth of the summer air, she craves a fire and a blanket around her shoulders.
“Perhaps it is better not to know.”
Katharine’s letter to Pietyr consists of only three lines.
Return to me now.
Do not be afraid.
Do not delay.
Poor Pietyr. She likes to imagine him hiding somewhere. Or running through scratchy brambles and twigs that sting like lashes, just as she did the night he met her beside the Breccia Domain. The night he threw her down into it.
“I must take care with my words, Sweetheart,” she says softly to the snake coiled around her arm. “So he will still think me his gentle little queen.” She smiles. “I must not scare him.”
He probably thinks that he will be put into the cells beneath the Volroy when he returns. That she will allow some war-gifted guard to beat his head against the walls until his brains run out. But Katharine has not told anyone about his role in her fall that night. And she has no plans to. She told Natalia that she stumbled into the Breccia Domain on her own as she fled in a panic from Arsinoe’s bear.
Katharine looks out her window from where she sits at her writing desk. To the east, below the last of the Stonegall hills, the capital city of Indrid Down glitters in the late-afternoon sun. In the center, the twin black spires of the Volroy jut up into the sky, the great castle fortress dwarfing everything else. Even the mountains seem hunched in comparison, backing off like trolls brought down by a shining light.
The belladonna berries roll in Katharine’s stomach, but she does not wince. It has been more than a month since she had to claw her way up and out of the heart of the island, and now Katharine can withstand anything.
She leans over and pushes the window open. These days her rooms smell slightly of sickness and whatever animals she is testing her poisons on. Many small cages of birds and rodents litter the room, on top of her tables and lined along the walls. A few lie inside dead, waiting to be cleared out.
She taps the cage on the corner of her desk to rouse the small gray mouse inside. It is blind in one eye, and mostly bald from Katharine’s rubbed poisons. She offers it a cracker through the bars of its cage, and it creeps forward, sniffing, afraid to eat it.
“Once, I was a mouse,” she says, and strips off her glove. She reaches into the cage to stroke the rodent’s tiny bald haunches.
“But I am not anymore.”
One Dark Throne hits bookstands September 19th.