The Wrinkled Crown, by Anne Nesbet, was published in 2015 by Harper.
Up in the magical wrinkled hills in the village of Lourka, almost-twelve-year-old Linny breaks an ancient law. In Lourka, girls are forbidden to touch the town’s namesake musical instrument before their twelfth birthday, or risk being spirited away. But Linny can’t resist the melodic call of the lourka’s strings, so she builds one herself. When the curse meant for her strikes her best friend instead, Linny must leave her home behind to try to set things right. If you leave the wrinkled hills, you will never find your way back—but Linny will risk everything to rescue her friend. With her father’s young apprentice, Elias, Linny travels from the wrinkled country to the scientific land of the Plain, where she finds herself at the center of an age-old battle between the logical and the magical. Can Linny keep the fractured land from falling apart—and save her best friend?
I think The Wrinkled Crown does its best to explore a “logic vs magic” (or in other words, “reason vs imagination”) conflict in its world, but it ultimately fell a little flat for me. Part of that was because I found aspects of the writing style annoying, especially at first before I started getting more absorbed in the book, and the sheer obviousness of the Plain representing plainness and “what life would be like without imagination/magic” made it difficult to read without rolling my eyes at every mention of the Plain this and the Plain that.
I also had problems with Linny herself, who is exactly the sort of protagonist who most people will praise for being strong and independent and constantly rescuing herself from the trouble she’s in, etc. and who I found to be a little grating at times. I’m really not fond of “girl excels at everything because she’s some sort of special girl from legendary stories” because of course she would excel at things if that were the case. Also, I tend to like my protagonists slightly less outspoken and rebellious.
I did like the Half Cat, even if I think magical/extraordinary cats to be way overdone, and I also liked most of the worldbuilding and what was revealed about the world, despite the Plain aspect. The plot itself is pretty good, as well, and I liked the idea about the conflict between logic and magic and the potential reunion of the two that we see in the end (even if I wish it had been explored more in the book). I could quibble a bit and say that reason/logic uses imagination/magic all the time and that they’re really not opposite, but as a middle grade book, The Wrinkled Crown does a fine job of addressing the subject in a way that’s sure to appeal to younger readers. In addition, even though I was not fond of Linny, she is a good protagonist for this book—she fits with the world, for the most part, and even though I wish the “she’s so strong and independent” theme had been incorporated much more subtly, I can see younger readers really loving her.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“Is that so?” said the enormous man. “My boy here belongs to you?”
The gray man laughed.
“Check the rules. When we catch a madji boy spying, he’s ours.”
Linny couldn’t help herself, she was so mad.
“Spying! How’s he a spy?”
It just burst out of her. She would have thought better of it, a moment later, but oh well. Done is done.
The gray people all turned to look in Linny’s direction. Their eyes were like icicles: sharp, pointy, and cold.
“Who’s that girl there, dressed up that way?” said the woman in gray. “Little girl, who are you? Here for the fair?”
“What fair?” said Linny, and it was as if those words just hung there suspended in the dusty air.