Book Reviews, Middle Grade

The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

In Croswald, the only thing more powerful than dark magic is one secret… 

For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic––and her life––is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever.

Thank you to Netgalley and the author for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Look at that beautiful cover! The first thing I’ll say about this story is that it holds a lot of potential. I’ve seen it compared to Harry Potter in other people’s reviews, which I would agree with, as it follows the same pattern of a young person living in misery and treated as a nobody by their carers until they get whisked away to a magic school and discover they are special, and chosen by prophecy. But beyond the basic structure, it does its own thing and develops a very different world, which I will go into later. My problem, however, is that everything is too confusing. Typically, for a story that takes place in another world, it works best to introduce it to the readers with something familiar, something simple. One might start with a character from our own world, if it’s a portal fantasy, or a character that inhabits a world at least vaguely familiar to us. Crowns of Croswald, on the other hand, does not do this. Its prologue take place in a magical town full of things that give no familiarity, and though they are described and eventually become familiar as one reads the book, it gives the reader a lot to deal with right away. If I were to read that prologue again now, knowing what I know, it wouldn’t present a problem, but for first time readers it’s not ideal.

Then when Ivy, our protagonist, is introduced she is also in a totally unfamiliar setting; she is a scaldrony maid in a castle surrounded by fields of slurry. Words here are vaguely familiar, but still jarring. They will be important though, and they do contribute to what I felt was the greatest strength of this book: world building. A scaldrony maid takes care of little dragons names scaldrons, which have been bred to replaces furnaces, which leads to Ivy being looked down on at the school because of her position; slurry is a plant that dampens magic, which is how Ivy has never encountered the magical world before she goes beyond their fields.

I would say that Crowns of Croswald doesn’t have any more new words and systems than any other story of this kind, and I know that many readers enjoy having a lot of lore to sink into, but sadly the way everything was introduced was a bit overwhelming for me. It’s possible that D.E. Night fell into the trap of putting every single aspect of world building she conjured up onto the page, resulting in a bit of a bombardment of information throughout the story. She does described things beautifully, though, and I visualised everything very clearly as I read, which speaks to her skill with words. It just needed a bit more refining. 

There were also a lot of inconsistencies and contradictions in the story, which led me to feel confused as I read. For example, in the prologue, a character is leaving the magic town via a flying cabbie shaped like a house and driven by a green rhino-like beast (a great image!), which creates a mini storm around itself to prevent people seeing it. As the story progresses, though, it seems that this is not a hidden world, as magic seems to be common knowledge, so this secrecy seems redundant. Another example is the fact that Ivy is utterly surprised to find out she has a spot at the magic school, despite her mentor-figure telling her outright that she may expect an invitation the day before she does, and that she has magic in her veins. This happens to her multiple times; a fact is given to her, and then she later discovers it again as if it were brand new. It was all a little strange.

All the characters also felt a lot like caricatures. It’s possible that in the later books they get developed further, but it felt like they were all on the cusp of becoming rounded and complex, but kept falling back on to their tropes, which made me a little less invested in Ivy’s fate. I will say, though, that I was very intrigued by her history. All throughout the book, from the very first chapter, there are hints that Ivy is more than she seems, and when she gets to the school she starts learning about the Dark Queen who currently rules the land, and that the true monarchy was wiped out long before, cursed tragically to always wander and forget themselves at the same time as the second moon disappeared from the sky. Also, the shady figure of Derwin Edgar Night haunts Ivy’s dreams and school corridors. These are mysteries I wanted more of, and their reveals felt a bit rushed at the end, but still good. My last criticism is the pace; it was quite slow, and the sequence of events relied quite a lot on things conveniently and coincidentally happening so that Ivy discovered the right thing at the right time. There wasn’t a lot of action and reaction going on. Just a lot of things happening and the characters going along with them.

Despite all this, I can see a lot of young readers enjoying it, as it is a middle grade book, despite the characters all being in their late teens. There are also currently two more books that I know of, and I would be interested to see what else Ivy discovers about her family and the history of Croswald in the future. All in all, a fun read, I just feel it needed a bit more work to be truly impactful.

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