To say Kendare Blake is a prolific Young Adult author is an understatement. Her Goddess War books (and accompanying short stories published on Tor.com) deliver stunning mythological tales, and her bestselling Anna Dressed in Blood series is paranormal horror at its finest.
Blake’s latest series, Three Dark Crowns, is an epic fantasy following three sisters—all queens with unique magical gifts. But only one queen can rule, and the last one standing will take the crown for herself. The result is a thrilling fantasy perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Sabaa Tahir.
The first book, also titled Three Dark Crowns, was a New York Times bestseller in 2016. Blake followed it up with One Dark Throne in 2017, and now Two Dark Reigns is scheduled for a September 4th release.
If you haven’t read books one and two of the quartet, digging into the plot of Two Dark Reigns will give you serious spoilers. So before reading on, pick up the first two and treat yourself to an epic journey.
All caught up? Great.
We’re thrilled share an exclusive excerpt from Blake’s latest novel, courtesy of HarperTeen. According to Blake, “It’s a scene inside the Volroy, the palace of the Queen Crowned, and takes place not long after the events of One Dark Throne.”
Enjoy (and remember to pre-order your copy of Two Dark Reigns).
Queen Katharine sits for her portrait painting in one of the high, west-facing rooms of the West Tower, just one floor below her own apartments. In her left hand, she holds an empty bottle, which in the painting will become a beautiful poison. Curled around her right is a coil of white rope that the painter’s brush will turn into a likeness of Sweetheart.
She turns her head to the window to look out over Indrid Down: dark brown roofs of the north-end row houses and roads disappearing into the hills, the sky dotted with smoke from chimneys and cut through by the tall, finely built stone structures of the central city. It is a calm and beautiful day. Workers work. Families eat and laugh and play. And she woke up that morning in Pietyr’s arms. All is well. Better than well, now that her troublesome sisters are dead.
“Please raise your chin, Queen Katharine. And straighten your back.”
She does as she is told, and the painter smiles a little fearfully. He is the finest master painter in all of Indrid Down, quite used to painting poisoners and the common poisoner props. But this is no mere portrait. This is the Queen Crowned’s portrait. And working on it makes even the finest master sweat.
They have set her so the view through the window behind her right shoulder will show Greavesdrake Manor. It was her idea, though the Arrons will take credit for it. She did not do it for them, but for Natalia, a small thing to honor the great head of the family, the woman who raised Katharine as if she were her own daughter. Because of her, Greavesdrake will always be present. A shadow of influence over her reign. She had wanted to set the urn of Natalia’s ashes in her lap, but Pietyr had talked her out of it.
“Queen Katharine.” Pietyr strides into the room, looking handsome as always in a black jacket and a dove-gray shirt, his ice-blond hair pushed back from his temples. He pauses behind the painter. “It is coming along nicely. You will be beautiful.”
“Beautiful.” She adjusts the empty bottle and rope in her hands. “I feel ridiculous.”
Pietyr claps the painter on the shoulder. “I need a moment with the queen, if you do not mind. Perhaps a short break?”
“Of course.” He sets down his brush, bows, and leaves, his eyes moving quickly over the bottle and rope, so he will know how to reset them.
“Is it truly good?” Katharine asks after the painter has gone. “I cannot bring myself to look. Perhaps we should have brought in a master from Rolanth. That city is mine now, too, and you know they have better artists.”
“Not even the best master from Rolanth could be trusted not to sabotage the portrait so soon after a contentious Ascension.” Pietyr follows her to the west-facing window and slides his arms around her waist. “A poisoner painter is best.” His arms tighten, fingers sliding across her bodice. “Do you remember those first days at Greavesdrake? It seems so long ago now.”
“Everything seems so long ago,” Katharine murmurs. She remembers her manor bedroom, all the striped silk and soft pillows. How she sat as a child with those pillows pulled into her lap, listening to Natalia tell stories. She remembers the library and the floor-to-ceiling velvet drapes, whose folds she used to hide behind whenever Genevieve was sent to poison her.
“It feels like Natalia is still there, does it not, Pietyr? Like if we looked hard enough we could see her standing with her arms crossed before the window of her study.”
“It does, dearest.” He kisses her temple, her cheek, nibbles her earlobe so a shiver runs through her. “But you must never speak so to anyone but me. I know you loved her. But you are a queen now. You are the queen, and there is no time for childhood longing. Come and look at these.” He leads her to a table and lays out a sheaf of papers for her to sign.
“What are they?”
“Work orders,” he says. “For the ships we will provide as gifts to King-consort Nicolas’s family. Six fine ships to ease their pain.”
“This is more than just ships,” Katharine says. But whatever they give is a small price to pay. The Martels had sent their favored son to become the king-consort of Fennbirn Island, and he had not even lasted a week before being killed in a fall from his horse. A bad fall, thrown down a shallow ravine. It took most of another week to find his body after his horse came back without its rider, and by then, poor Nicolas had been dead a long time.
If only they knew exactly how long. The story of the fall was a lie. A fabrication, worked up by Pietyr and Genevieve, so that none would ever know the truth: that Nicolas had died after consummating his marriage with Katharine. That she is a poisoner in the most literal sense, her whole body toxic to the touch. No one could ever know that. Not even the island, or they would also know that she can bear no mainland-fathered children. That she cannot bear the next triplet queens of Fennbirn.
Whenever she thinks of that, she nearly freezes in fear.
“What are we doing, Pietyr?” Her hand hangs over her half-finished signature. “What is the point, if at the end of it all, I cannot provide my people with new queens?”
Pietyr sighs. “Look at this with me, Kat.” He takes her hand, and they return to the portrait. There is not much to it yet. Shapes and impressions. The blackness of her gown. But the painter is gifted, and even at so early a stage, she can imagine what the finished painting will look like. “‘Katharine, the fourth poisoner queen,’ it will be called. Katharine, of the poisoner dynasty. Who follows in the footsteps of the three previous poisoners: Queen Nicola, Queen Sandrine, and Queen Camille. It is who you are, and we have plenty of time to put things in place to ensure the future of the island.”
“My whole long reign.”
“Yes. Thirty, perhaps forty years.”
“Pietyr.” She laughs. “Queens do not rule that long anymore.”