A Scathing Rant…be ye forewarned.
Book Review No. 15: The Crown of Three/The Crown of Three: The Lost Realm
Author: J.D. Rhinehart (Graham Edwards)
Genre: Children’s Fantasy (Middle-Grade)
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Decimating battles, high tension, murder, one character burned at the stake, beheading, competing armies of ghosts and “undead/zombies,” presence of witches and a mistress, forced marriage between a young girl and much older male relative, enough gore to go around.
BookmarkedOne Rating: Crown of Three, 6/10, The Lost Realm, 4/10
Most Spoilers Marked
Books like these are the reason parents think their kids shouldn’t read fantasy.
A little part of me hates to say that. To do this review at all. It’s not my intention to be cruel. But fantasy isn’t all like this! It isn’t all about poison and killing and competing for power. It’s about seeing something impossible and utterly fantastic. A world, and creatures, always dreamed of but never known.
So can I really let people read this book and think it’s what fantasy is? Or that it’s good in comparison?
It had potential. A few cool concepts, beautiful cover, believable world–
Potential that regrettably didn’t pay out. To the point that I can’t bear to do two disgruntled reviews, so I’m smeshing the first two books of the series together into one.
Why did I read two? Because I bought the second one (per usual) without realizing it was a sequel.
It had a dragon on the cover.
I was going to read the third one. I didn’t even think about it. But then, after finishing The Crown of Three, I had the most wonderful revelation.
Nobody was making me read it. I didn’t desperately need to know what happened to the world or the characters.
I did not care.
And that was the most singular, whole-hearted relief I can probably ever remember having for not finishing a series.
You were probably starting to think I loved every book I picked up, right? Ha. Not even close.
So brace yourselves against whatever bulwark there is in your library, bookworms. This book dragged us from the stars to eagles to the depths of the earth to the heart of fire.
If only it had been as epic as it sounds.
We begin–with a prophesy.
Forgive me if you can already here the whimpering and pleading for mercy in the background. Prophesies are fine to start books with…but one day I’m probably going to have to devote an entire blog post to how sick I am about the whole idea of destiny (because the stars/your parents/your unavoidable fate) as a trope in fantasy. It’s fine–until it’s really not.
We began with a prophesy.
Condensed version: three children are going to be born and overthrow the tyrant king–also their father–and rule the land in peace. And they will rule together (like the four Pevensies of Narnia! Great idea!). We know this because the old wizard is excited enough to run and there are three new stars in the night sky. Great, right?
Welp…not so much.
Prophesy is tricky. Did you just tell your readers everything that’s going to happen, or is it a red herring? In this case (sorry for the spoiler)…it’s pretty much established it’s going to happen no matter what.
We continue with heightened danger
Obviously, the king isn’t fond of the prophesy. And–personal grumpiness here–he has very little character besides Evil King. No motivation of love or honor or even backstory to explain who he is and why he is this way. Just that one day he wakes up, there’s a prophesy that says he’s evil and destined for death, so apparently he just goes with it.
I’ve read chess pieces with more character than he has.
I digress again.
Logical decision before we have this pseudo-King Henry the IIX turn into Herod the Great in the middle of a kid’s book? Bundle the three children off to different faithful knights and watch as they grow up apart and almost entirely unwitting as to their fate.
Tarlan: the wild boy from the northern reaches of the world who rides on the back of giant eagles, has no manners, and likes animals better than people.
Tarlan was pretty good for most of the book.
Gulph: the acrobatic hunchback strolling player with a sweet heart.
My personal favorite.
And Elodie: the selfish princess who lives like a silken lapdog while her brothers have all the fun.
Elodie is so irritating in the first book. But she does get a character arc, which is more than we can say for most of the cast, so…
Getting to the important stuff…
SPOILER WARNING: the prophesy with the king dying is finished really early on in book one.
So we spend the rest of the book wandering around, amassing an army, reuniting family, oh, and there’s wizards again…
By the end of book one:
Elodie is still irritating but not as much as before, Gulph is still a sweet little tragic character, our prophesy has been unfulfilled, and what was a noble-prophesy story has now become a somewhat technical depiction of a rebel army.
Knew it was too easy.
On to book two!
The book I actually wanted to read in the first place! And dragons, right?
Instead, we have more plotting and planning, action sequences–
–it’s not a dragon, it’s a sea serpent and it barely makes an appearance (then why was it on the cover?)…
Okay, by this point it feels like Tarlan, Elodie and Gulph are just tools. Everything about their characters, their gifts, it’s all just a military weapon. No emotion, no character development besides static tropes, no peacetime function of gifts, just how can we use this to get over the chasm and into the castle to kill a king we already killed who is now–(deep breath)–a zombie.
…yeah. Did not see that coming.
By this point, I think I’m just reading out of morbid fascination.
And don’t be grumpy, but I’ve never actually come across a zombie thrown into a book I thought was just sublimely written. That had to be there and added everything to the story. Please. Prove me wrong.
So I was already annoyed. But how do we kill a zombie?
Apparently by killing him again! Oh, but by a different child this time.
Now I’m suspicious.
Are each of the three going to have to kill him now? Because you already killed him once and he came back. I don’t trust you!
It’s especially irritating because while the “Villains can’t actually die, we just make you think they can” rule of tropes is in play, the “Protagonists and friends in children’s fiction cannot die” is not. I wouldn’t be annoyed if it was for a reason of character development, if the death was done tactfully…but it wasn’t. It was just one more gory and painful thing to add to the death count of this startlingly bloody children’s book.
I mean, seriously now–
I’m used to this kind of violence in YA/adult fantasy when tempered with logical reasons and good writing, but this book is intended for a 9-12 age group.
Are we trying to scar children? Respectfully, Mr. Rinehart, you are neither Jacob nor Wilhem Grimm. I was getting sick of the violence at my age just because of how much of a focus it was. No character development, just blood and battle.
To be fair:
- I really did like Gulph.
- We really don’t have enough Roc birds in fantasy, especially those described as well as they are here.
- Tarlan’s gift was interesting.
- The three-stars were clever.
- The place-names had a beautiful rhythm to them.
- I liked the description of the wizard’s magic being so mathematical, and the cavern of stars is pretty gorgeous.
But that’s really not enough to hang a story on. A few good ideas and character codes we already know in trade for zombies, a mistress, and murder? Sorry. No.
There are just too many beautiful books out there. Books that will fill your heart and take your hand and lead you to somewhere you’ve never seen. Books that you can’t forget about because they won’t let you. Because they mean so much to you that you’ll carry them always. Wherever you go.
Don’t waste your time reading something you aren’t going to love.