In case you didn’t know, The Crowns of Croswald is a middle grade fantasy book (to be a book series) about a magical boarding school and a scullery maid that dreams of attending. Of course, she is chosen to attend when she turns 16. And she discovers that there’s always been magic inside of her. The end.
Well, that’s not really the end. First she has to learn about her past (because she’s an orphan, obviously), about her magical abilities (which are really interesting) and about her life in the magical school (a super whimsical and fantastic place).
This has to be the most ambivalent review I ever wrote, because I can’t make my mind about it. On one hand I liked the world building and main plot points, on the other hand, I disliked the poor character development and the trite “chosen-one orphan with hidden powerful magic, something, something, prophecy” trope.
So here are my main pros and cons, I hope you find them useful!
A different take on the magical boarding school. The Halls of Ivy is a school for princesses and scrivenists. The former will learn about the power contained in the gems adorning their crowns (hence the title of the book), and the latter to cast spells with their quills and magical inks. I really liked the idea of princesses in puffy dresses attending a magical school, it’s too cute! Also, that the scrivenists don’t use magic wands, but their quills! They are avid readers and love to learn, so after graduating they can work for a royal family while practicing their skills (similar to the Maesters in Game of Thrones).
I’ve seen this book compared to Harry Potter since it has the same “orphan goes to a magical school” plot. But I think the author managed to make The Halls of Ivy its own unique thing. Apart from the crowns and quills, the school is full of whimsical surprises that I loved reading about. From the teachers to the different rooms and magical creatures (like the hairies, little bright fairies with long hair that are used as lanterns), everything in the school had its quirks and charm.
There’s a curse and a really well kept secret (literally). And I’m obviously keeping the secret to myself since I don’t want to spoil anyone! But my favorite part of the plot is that people, things and events can be magically hidden or forgotten, so a big part of the mystery is finding the -literally- missing pieces.
The characters. All the characters. I’ll start with the thing that bothered me the most through the book: the protagonist. Ivy is supposed to be 16 years old but in no way she resembled a teenager. She was too childish and naive! I often mistook her for a 10 year old and I think her lack of personality also contributed to this. We don’t really get to learn a lot about her. In the first chapter we see her taking care of a sick dragon and reading books, so we assume she’s caring and curious. But that’s it. There’s no more development after that.
Also, the secondary characters weren’t developed either. She’s friends with a princess from her class that doesn’t seem to have her own personality, so her relationship with Ivy feels very bland. There’s also a “cute” guy that only appears to save the day when Ivy is in trouble (like Tuxedo Mask). There are also some teachers, the Dark Queen and The Selector. They seem so interesting at first! Sadly the book doesn’t focus on developing these characters, so they end up being one-dimensional people. It would be cool to get to know them better in the sequels, though I’m still not sure if I’ll continue reading this series.
It feels too Middle Grade-ish. And I know this book is aimed at middle grade readers, but it still disappointed me. I could clearly see that the main audience would be 8-12 year old kids because the plot would bee too simple and probably predictable for older readers. Most of the time there’s no need to guess or make your own theories because all the hints are thrown in your face.
We are often told that things happened instead of reading about the things happening. I would have liked to see Ivy getting better at school and learning new spells, but instead I had to read lines like “Some weeks passed and Ivy got better at school” without getting to see any of it. It also has characters with BIG lines of dialogue, so instead of normal conversations between people it feels like they have mini monologues to make sure we get the intended message.
Again, I understand that a story for younger readers doesn’t need to be so complex, but I wish it had a little bit of complexity. Especially because there’s an interesting secret in the plot going on but the mystery didn’t last long.
- You’re between the ages of 8-12
- You enjoy middle grade books with simple plots
- You love magical boarding schools and whimsical worlds
- You prefer world-building instead of character development