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Book: “A Crown of Ivy and Glass” by Claire Legrand
Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, May 2023
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the author!
Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat
Book Description: Lady Gemma Ashbourne seemingly has it all. She’s young, gorgeous, and rich. Her family was Anointed by the gods, blessed with incredible abilities. But underneath her glittering façade, Gemma is deeply sad. Years ago, her sister Mara was taken to the Middlemist to guard against treacherous magic. Her mother abandoned the family. Her father and eldest sister, Farrin—embroiled in a deadly blood feud with the mysterious Bask family—often forget Gemma exists.
Worst of all, Gemma is the only Ashbourne to possess no magic. Instead, her body fights it like poison. Constantly ill, aching with loneliness, Gemma craves love and yearns to belong.
Then she meets the devastatingly handsome Talan d’Astier. His family destroyed themselves, seduced by a demon, and Talan, the only survivor, is determined to redeem their honor. Intrigued and enchanted, Gemma proposes a bargain: She’ll help Talan navigate high society if he helps her destroy the Basks. According to popular legend, a demon called The Man With the Three-Eyed Crown is behind the families’ blood feud—slay the demon, end the feud.
But attacks on the Middlemist are increasing. The plot against the Basks quickly spirals out of control. And something immense and terrifying is awakening in Gemma, drawing her inexorably toward Talan and an all-consuming passion that could destroy her—or show her the true strength of her power at last.
Review: First off, thanks so much to Sourcebooks Casablanca for sending me an ARC of this book! I was so excited when I received it in the mail, as it’s been sitting pretty high on my wishlist of books to read in 2023. I wasn’t Legrand’s most ardent fan with her YA trilogy (I found that it began to fall into a few too many YA fantasy tropes for my preference), but there was never any question regarding her overall skill as an author. Her writing always came across as supremely confident and competent. That made me all the more excited to check out her first foray into adult fantasy, especially adult fantasy romance! Let’s dive in!
Gemma has grown up with a very priveleged existence: rich, beautiful, and a member of one of the most powerful families in the land. But, at the same time, Gemma has always felt herself to be on the outside looking in. Not only does she not possess any of the magical talent that her family is known for, and that both of her older sisters excel at in their own ways, but magic actively hurts Gemma, causing her to move through life in a very magical world experiencing constant levels of pain. When Gemma meets Talan, a young man who also feels that he exists outside the strictures of society, she finally begins to see a way forward, teaming up with him to hunt a powerful demon who may be the answer to her struggles with magic. But along the way, she begins to suspect that there is much more going on with Talan and the larger world as a whole.
So, I’ll be honest, I’ve had this post started for a few weeks now and every time I pull it up to actually write my review, I become super intimidated and find excuses to do other things. Mostly this is because I’m still not quite sure how I feel about this book! I have some extremely opposing feelings about almost every part of it. But one thing I think I can confidently start with is one of the things I referred to in my introduction: this author knows how to write. I immediately felt drawn into this world and these characters. As the story progressed, the magic and world itself felt as if it was unrolling before me, presenting more and more insights into the world-building that was on a much more grandiose scale than I had originally thought. Regardless of anything else in this review, the appeal of Legrand’s prose is enough to keep me reading this trilogy going forward.
But where my opinions become more divided is with the characters and the pacing of this story. Let’s start with the pacing and plotting. This book was blurbed as “Bridgerton meets ACOTAR.” Maybe I should have know right from there that I would be conflicted about this book! I mean, I really enjoy Bridgerton and I absolutely loathe ACOTAR. And I can confirm that both of those references feel very on point and accurate to what you’ll get if you pick up this book. I’ll even go as far as to say that the ACOTAR aspects were by no means as frustrating to me as ACOTAR itself. Indeed, I very much liked these parts of the story! No, the problem came in a very unique way. The book almost literally feels as if it has been split down the middle by these two comparisons. The first half is Bridgerton, with fantastical balls, social hierarchies, fancy gowns, and romance. And then, boom! The second half hits and we’re full on ACOTAR with magical barriers and fantasy creatures and magical systems. And, again, I enjoyed this half too! The problem is that, overall, it left the book feeling very disjointed and created a jarring reading experience. I was all down for the regency fantasy, and then it was like a bait and switch to suddenly be dropped down into a much more “traditional” fantasy setting. And due to the fact that much of the plot really takes place in the second half, I was left feeling as if the book could have been edited down quite a bit from the Bridgerton stuff of the beginning, as much as I liked it on its own.
Now, to the characters. First, I think that Legrand did an excellent job of portraying the experiences and life of someone who lives with chronic pain. Gemma is very straight-forward with her struggles while also never becoming self-pitying. She is frustrated with her limitations, while also not belittling herself. I also really like the way this aspect of her character plays out over the entire arc of the book. Unfortunately, that was about all I liked about Gemma. I get that the author was very intentionally writing this character as rather frivolous and selfish; indeed, Gemma herself comments on these aspects of her personality. And I think the book used these traits to also do a great job of diving into self-loathing and self-harm. But over the course of the book, while Gemma does experience growth, I still struggled to really like her or feel invested in her story.
But, here comes the other side of the character issue: I REALLY liked both of her sisters. Honestly, fairly quickly into the book I realized that I was mostly reading on for the glimpses we get of these two and trying to piece together the stories we’ll get from them. I was even more invested into the glimpses of what I can only guess will be the central romance for one of the sisters than I was in Gemma’s own romance. There, too, I struggled with Gemma’s story. Talan felt very one-note when he was first introduced. And then as he went on, he had a few scenes that made him incredibly unlikable. The story does go on to make this a fairly central part of the plot, but it’s hard to recover from on the romance front when the author sets the reader on a path of questioning and disliking the romantic hero from the very start.
So, overall, this was a very mixed bag for me. I think, in the end, I didn’t end up loving this book. But, BUT!, on the other hand, I’m supremely invested in the next book in this series and can’t wait to get my hands on it! Given the nature of my complaints with this book, they all feel of the very specific sort that won’t be a problem in the books going forward. Both sisters seem like much more interesting characters than Gemma. The romantic interest/plot for one of them is already laid out and is incredibly appealing. And I think the world-building is now established enough that we won’t have the same plotting/pacing issue going forward where the tone is unclear between Bridgerton or ACOTAR. So, all of this to say, while I did struggle with this book, I do recommend it for fantasy romance readers based on my faith that the trilogy will turn out to be well worth it as a whole.
Rating 7: A very mixed bag for this book specifically, but I was definitely sold on the concept and anxiously await the next entry in the trilogy!
“A Crown of Ivy and Glass” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Novels with “Crown” in the Title and Epic High Fantasy/Romance/Mythology in 2023.