Thanks to the team at Stories Untold for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Crowns of Croswald (The Croswald Series #1)
Publisher: Stories Untold
Publication Date: 21 July 2017
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Ivy Lovely is 16 and she has no idea who she is—or what her powers could be. When she crosses a magical boundary, she discovers a whole new world of enchantment and mystery. Making friends that will last a lifetime—and save her life—she steps into her own abilities and discovers more about her hidden past, magical blood, and the power of Croswald’s mystical stones. But all is not well: a dark history and an evil Queen threatens all that is good. Will Ivy’s bravery and wit be enough?
Curious and whimsical, both shy and brave, Ivy is a hero that connects with readers of all ages. For those who wished that Narnia, Harry Potter, and Alice in Wonderland could go on forever, Croswald opens a whole new world of magic. Recommended as a read-aloud for families and a first middle-grade fantasy read, The Crowns of Croswald is a four-part series that will carry readers to a whimsical world that they won’t want to leave.
I really wanted to love this story. I wanted to love it so much that although I struggled to read it over a period of 2 months, I still persisted in the hopes that it would get better or something about it would click for me. I’m really sad to say that it never happened and it was with a great resounding sigh of relief that I finally came to the last page of this book. I feel terrible leaving a low rating, especially when the author’s team reached out for me to read it, but I did receive a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and an honest review I shall give it. It does seem that I’m very much in the minority with my feelings though so perhaps this just really wasn’t for me!
One of the first things you’ll notice about this book, whether it’s when actually reading it or when reading reviews about it, is how much it’s compared to Harry Potter. There are definitely a lot of similarities from our protagonist, Ivy, growing up mistreated and living in a cupboard, to being magically sought-out one day and receiving an invitation to a prestigious magic school, to various elements of the school itself and the teachers as well. But while there were similarities, I think there’s still enough difference in the magic, world-building and plot for it to stand out on its own, and I personally didn’t feel that it was that similar. Although I had some issues with the writing, I have to acknowledge that there was a lot of wondrous creativity that went into the world-building. I thought the concept of scrivenry was so unique and something that I’ve never seen before. I liked the use of gem stones to differentiate magical abilities, and the abilities were pretty cool, especially the shapeshifting. I thought the magical creatures like hairies, the scaldrony dragons, and the shorehorse, and magical contraptions like the cabbie was also a very unique aspect of the story and they’re things that I’ve never seen in other fantasies (so far as I can recall).
There was actually a lot to enjoy about the world that Night introduces in the book but it was the execution that I felt was underwhelming.
We’re introduced to this world as if we should already be familiar with it–such as with how the world is laid out, how the magic works, the societal structure, etc., and I found that initially quite confusing though I was willing to read on in the hopes that the world-building would eventually clear things up. And while we do get more information, it felt very patchy and this world never clearly formed in my mind, which didn’t help me situate myself or really feel “into” the story as events unfold at a very fast pace. As I read on, there were many inconsistencies in both the plot and the characters that kept jarring me out of the story and it ended up becoming quite frustrating as it persisted until the end. Put plainly, I found myself feeling lost and confused through the majority of the book and couldn’t really latch on to the plot or the direction it took. I really wish that we got more scenes with the scrivenry magic because although a large part of the story was about scrivenists and what they can do, we don’t really get to see it in action.
What also made it difficult for me to get into the story was the lack of connection to the characters. Ivy came across as much younger than 16 and I found most of the characters felt flat. I was disappointed that the one aspect I usually love in MG fantasy, which is the strong friendships, was sorely lacking in this one. Ivy grew up without friends and that individualist mentality persisted throughout the book so that she ended up doing a lot of things by herself, and that’s totally understandable. However, there were times when her “friends” would show up at random, and they would act like they had a closer relationship than what we’ve been shown. That disconnect would always throw me off because we don’t really know these characters although the sudden closeness in their interactions makes it feel like we should. The author seemed to rely a lot on telling instead of showing and that also had a big impact on how connected I felt to everything–it was all just a little underwhelming.
Ultimately, it was the lack of investment in both the story and characters that made it such a struggle for me to get through this book. I was honestly surprised by how long it took me to read it and I’m quite sad that I didn’t enjoy it more; but as mentioned, my opinion seems to be the minority so perhaps it’s a case of “it’s me and not the book”. That said, I do believe that the target audience of young readers will surely delight in the magic and creativity of the world that Night created in The Crowns of Croswald!
Have you read The Crowns of Croswald? Is it on your TBR?