At the heart of Clair Legrand’s fantasy romance novel, A Crown of Ivy and Glass (The Middlemist Trilogy,1), lies the frantically beating heart of anxiety. Webs of sultry romance, political machinations, and fantastical beasts all dance to the fluttering beat of that anxiety-ridden heart and Legrand’s readers can do little but dance along as well. Themes of anxiety, depression, and guilt are woven into A Crown of Ivy and Glass, but it’s the wherewithal of it’s heroine that provides a sense of warmth and humanity to the narrative.

A Mysterious Man and a Blood Feud

Set on the continent of Gallinora, A Crown of Ivy and Glass presents a world full of dark magic and dead gods. Before their death in an event known as “The Unmaking”, the gods gifted magic to the people of Gallinora to some people on the continent, some on purpose, some on accident. They also created a mist that runs down the continent to protect the world from demons and other nasty creatures.

Lady Imogen Ashbourne, or Gemma for short, doesn’t possess magic in a family that’s been anointed by the gods. Her two older siblings both possess magic, as well as her father. She struggles finding her place in high society until a mysterious man, Talan d’Astier, appears. He claims that her family has been influenced by a demon into a blood feud with another anointed family, the Basks.

Early on in the book, the focus is on political intrigue. Both the Ashbournes and the Basks are elite members in Gallinora’s nobility, though no one quite knows what started the feud between them. Claire Legrand quickly establishes a plot that centers on the intrigue between the two families.

But as the story unfolds, Legrand moves away from this. The story moves from politicking at parties to facing off against all manners of fantastical creatures. There are demons, necromancers, and much more. While this shift may seem jarring at first, it makes sense in the context of the story. As the story transitions from palatial balls to rousing fantasy action there lingers a sense of mystery as to the origins of the blood feud and to whose benefit it exists These questions are answered and make the shift make sense.

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An Intriguing Plot

The plot of A Crown of Ivy and Glass is quite interesting. There are multiple plot threads of various lengths that help keep the story moving. The opening to the story, like many beginnings of fantasy series’, moves a little slowly. It doesn’t show its full scope until midway through the narrative, but as an avid reader of fantasy, this is par for the course. It’s not that the opening is boring, it’s that the political intrigue begins on a small scale.

As the story moves forward the plot threads become intertwined. Even as new plot threads were introduced they seemed connected to the overarching plot. Even the threads that aren’t obviously connected to the overarching plot of the first book seem as if they will be explored further in the trilogy of novels; although, interestingly enough, each proceeding book will focus on each of Gemma’s sisters, each with their own book.

Romance

Gemma and Talan both fall for each other and unsurprisingly, this doesn’t go perfectly smoothly. Legrand does a good job making sure the romance plot thread is intriguing and lays the pieces out for the payoff. The payoff feels well-earned and doesn’t come out of thin air which is satisfying, considering how difficult good romances can be to write.

Being a romance novel, however, there are multiple multi-page scenes of explicit sex. One of my favorite lines in the book is unintentionally funny and is a bit jarring considering the word choice when compared to the rest of the book. The line, “In my entire life,… I never wanted anything more than I want to **** your perfect sweet little ****.” Talan’s colorful way of describing what he wants to do to Gemma is shocking and is a bit unearned when it happens. The naughty words only come out during the sex scenes which makes them feel all the more jarring. That being said, I found myself enjoying the romance between Gemma and Talan and I end up rooting for them as the story unfolds. There’s even some foreshadowing for later books of a Romeo and Juliet style romance between members of the Ashbournes and the Basks.

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World Building

When it comes to fantasy books, it can be tough to build a well-thought-out, lived-in world. Legrand does a great job of building the lore of the continent of Gallinora. She drip-feeds the history of the world in a natural way, avoiding long paragraphs of exposition. The descriptions of the world entice the reader to learn more.

I found myself wanting to know more about the world as I read. I soaked up and devoured every piece of lore that helped build the world and the characters in the world. The pacing of how the information was given felt perfect to me.

Allegory on Anxiety

My favorite part of the book, and one I connected to most was Legrand’s description of anxiety. Gemma suffers from what she calls “the panic.” It debilitates her throughout the story and she spends the length of the book learning to handle it. What makes Gemma’s anxiety realistic is that even at the end of the book she isn’t fully able to manage it. As someone that suffers and will always have to deal with OCD, this was nice to see. It’s not something one can just get over.

The panic comes to Gemma and she starts to learn ways to deal with it. The mini-prayer she creates was relatable. “I was not terrible. I was not a burden. I was not alone.” I found myself relating to Gemma multiple times throughout the book. I enjoyed reading about her growth and definitely was rooting for her as the story progressed. The scene where Gemma figures out why she has the panic in the first place is a fantastic metaphor that a lot of people with anxiety can relate to as well.

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Final Thoughts

Overall, I would recommend A Crown of Ivy and Glass by Claire Legrand. I was a little surprised that I enjoyed the book so much. Romance novels are not usually the first book I would reach for on the shelf, so I was a bit apprehensive about how much I would enjoy it. Claire Legrand does a good job weaving together the romance and the fantasy as the world-building is fantastic. The characters are intriguing and dynamic. The writing is a bit young-adult at times, but I didn’t mind it so much. It’s a great start for a trilogy and I look forward to continue reading about Gemma, Gallinora, and the Middlemist.

A Crown of Ivy and Glass

By Claire Legrand

Sourcebooks Casablanca. 560 pp. $23

THE GOOD
Intriguing plot
Interesting Characters
Great World Building
THE BAD
Young-Adult type writing
Word-choice at times can be jarring
8
Great

Review Summary

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