I was approached by the publisher (Stories Untold Press) on Instagram, and was offered a free e-copy of the book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and following the author on Instagram.
Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Magic
The Crowns of Croswald is the story of 16 year old Ivy Lovely, a lowly scaldrony maid, who suddenly discovers that she has magical powers, and is swept away to master her skills at the Halls of Ivy, a prestigious school of magic. She soon lands herself in all kinds of trouble as she seeks to find the truth about her past and the Halls of Ivy, and tries to keep out of reach of the Dark Queen.
This basic synopsis may sound very familiar to Harry Potter fans (how could it not?), and I did see many similarities between this book and some other magical series, but I was pleased to note that there were also
many differences. Croswald is definitely a unique world all its own. The similarities between series were just enough to make it feel
familiar, which is not a bad thing in my opinion.
As soon as I knew that this was a middle grade fantasy involving a magical boarding school, my interest was instantly piqued, and I feel like it mostly lived up to my expectations. The story flowed very well and there was just enough adventure vs world-building, etc. To be honest, I wasn't that drawn into it until about the halfway point, but after that, I was absolutely hooked and could hardly put it down for wanting to know what would happen next!
The Crowns of Croswald is promoted as being middle grade, and it does very much read like a middle grade fantasy adventure book. However, that being said, I was constantly surprised by the fact that Ivy is 16 years old. She doesn't act like a 16 year old (even one who's lived her life more or less sheltered in a dungeon as a maid), and 16 seems a little too old for the middle grade genre. I see that others have categorized it as young adult, which the protagonist's age would support, however the author and publisher classify it as middle grade, so I think that Ivy's age is a bit of an oversight by both the author and the publisher. It would have made more sense, in my opinion, for the main character to be around 12 or 13 years old, based on the genre, target audience, and Ivy's maturity. Perhaps I haven't completely grasped how the world of Croswald works, but it also felt a little unlikely that a magical school with four years of study would only begin teaching magic to students at age 16, unless we are to assume that the Halls of Ivy is meant to be more of a college, which really doesn't fit middle grade. However, the school doesn't feel like a college, so again, perhaps the ages are a bit of an oversight. Then again, we are assuming that all the first year students are the same age as Ivy, but maybe Ivy is older than the rest?
Some of the dialogue felt a bit awkward, in particular between Ivy and her friends. This may be because I didn't find that either Rebecca or Fyn were particularly well-developed characters; I think I would have liked to have just seen more of them and to get to know them better. Middle grade books are typically very friendship heavy, and I kind of missed that here. For example, all we really know about Fyn is a vague physical description, that he is a third year student and "class facilitator," and he always seems to show up when Ivy is getting herself into trouble (which really made me wonder whether he is good or bad?).
I found it interesting that the royals and sqwinches all attend the same school and the same classes together, while there is such apparent disparity between them in society. I really would have liked it if we would have seen more of what "normal" first year sqwinches are/should be capable of, and how they perform magic. I'm also wondering if the concept of time is actually different in Croswald than it is to us? It seemed that the school year passed very quickly, and I wonder if it was just a lack of reference points (other than moons) such as holidays or semesters to help note the passing of time, or if time just moves at a different rate in this world. Lastly, I wonder how or why the slurry actually inhibits magic?
I do feel I should mention some technical points while I'm here. These do not affect my rating, however they may affect others' ratings, and I think they are things to be noted by the publishers. There were a few spelling & grammatical errors in the e-version that I read. There was also one mistake that I found particularly disturbing, which is found on page 400 of the NetGalley e-book, wherein a background character called Coton is described as having "pupils as green as emeralds" - as a general rule, human pupils are black and the iris has colour. If this character is actually meant to have green pupils, then it should be explained why (for example, what kind of creature she might be if not human).
Some of my favourite aspects of The Crowns of Croswald were Ivy's forever-fitting dress (I would love to have one of those!), the ballroom, the hairies, and the bedroom bars (how awesome would it be to have unlimited access to the perfect beverage - hot or cold - from the comfort of your bedroom!?).
To summarize, there were some aspects of the book that I didn't find relatable or believable or that didn't suit my preferences, but overall I did enjoy it and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series at some point. I also would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who has loved Harry Potter and Nevermoor, anyone who appreciates a good middle grade fantasy, and anyone who loves magic, boarding schools, and "chosen one" or "secret heir" tropes.
My Goodreads rating:
I gave this book 3 1/2 out of 5 stars, but rounded up to 4 on Goodreads.