What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a bee? Is it honey? The color yellow?
In Kendare Blake’s novel Three Dark Crowns, a set of triplets are born in every generation. Each girl is a queen, an equal to her sisters, and an owner of incredible powers. This generation comes Mirabella, an elemental; Katharine, a poisoner; and Arsinoe, a naturalist. At the age of sixteen, the girls must fight each other for reign. The last one standing rules over Fennbirn.
“I was at a book event in Oregon in spring of 2013 and just outside the bookstore was a ball of bees, like a ball, made out of 100% bees and everyone was terrified,” recalled Blake. “But a beekeeper happened to be there and she told us not to worry, that they were SWARMING and basically would not bother us as long as we left the ball alone because inside that ball was their queen and they were only focused on protecting her as they moved to a new hive.”
Fascinated, Blake wanted to know more. And the beekeeper was happy to talk.
“She told me that a queen bee will lay several queen eggs before she leaves her hive and the new baby queens hatch out and MURDER each other to find out which one gets to take over the old hive.”
That is how the idea for Three Dark Crowns was born. Because of bees.
“I mean, they’re queens but not queen BEES obviously, but the island is still a matriarchy just like a beehive, and we still have three little baby queens who according to tradition, must kill each other to ascend,” said Blake. “I added in the special powers aspect with the queens each having a different magical gift, but by and large once the idea was there it just… formed into a story.
“It’s been incredible working inside a matriarchy, really fun to play with gender roles—or the lack of gender roles—and it was fun to have the boys come from the mainland, too, which is patriarchal, and watch their eyeballs get bigger when they meet girls who have never had gender constraints and so have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s been wonderful writing so many women in so many different capacities.”
Blake’s novel is one of few novels I’ve read recently where women were in power of everything. The Three Dark Crowns series focuses on more women than just Mirabella, Katharine, and Arsinoe: there’s Jules, Arsinoe’s best friend and strongest naturalist in decades; Luca, the high Priestess of the Temple who makes all the decisions; and Natalia, head of the Arron family and the Black Council.
All the women in the story are powerful, complex, and compelling, and makes the reader believe they are living in the matriarchy along with the characters. Even Jules’ familiar, an animal guide who assists naturalists, is an impressive female cougar named Camden.
“It’s been wonderful writing so many women in so many different capacities,” said Blake. “They’re the heads of government, the heads of religion, the heads of the household. And you know, those parts didn’t seem at all strange to me. Because it should not be strange to see.”
The novel’s characters not only have dynamic personalities and backstories. They also have cool names that just magically seem to fit.
“I always say the best characters show up with names. Because I HATE thinking of them,” said Blake. “The queens absolutely introduced themselves by name almost the first time I met them. And Jules, I knew was Jules, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized it was short for Juillenne.”
Many animal characters, like Camden, are named after animals Blake knows. “Camden the cougar is named after my brother’s very bad-tempered tabby. And Hank the rooster is a real rooster, owned by my real friend, Luke.”
For these things, Blake did not need to conduct much research in order to add to her story. But what did Blake need to research? Poisons.
“Most of the poisons in the book are actual poisons (though they are not used/administered in realistic ways). Not all though. I think I snuck in a mention of Iocane powder, which of course is from The Princess Bride, and not real.”
Two Dark Reigns, book three in the series, is available now. The series isn’t over, but Blake does hope readers get “enjoyment, and a good read” out her novels… or that they are “inspired to create fan art, or fanfic, or cosplay, or find new bookish friends who also love the books, or do any of the other wonderful creative things that fandom does.”