JK Rowling’s Got You Down? Pick Up Nevermoor!

Lila Alonso Limongi ’26 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Generally, not a lot of faith is put into middle grade books. The genre, suitable for ages 8 to 12, is often dismissed as too immature for older readers. Even so, some middle grade book series manage to punch through this age barrier and become household names—they include the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, which comprises an impressive 22 books, and, of course, the Harry Potter series.

An issue, however, has presented itself when it comes to Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling, the author of the series is, simply put, a bigot. Her tirade of anti-trans comments, as well as critical readings of her books, which have shown her to have included anti-semitic elements into her work, have transformed her from benign author to pariah in many circles. 

JK Rowling’s intense hatred for the trans community, which leads her to fixate on it with a burning intensity, Tweeting obsessively, has led many to disavow the previously incredibly popular Harry Potter series. The loss of this comfort book and movie series, has led many to wonder: what now? Harry Potter was so loved, and especially by the LGBTQ+ community, whose writings  litter Archive of Our Own, a huge fanfiction database. Fans went so far as to tattoo quotes and symbols from the books onto their bodies. What book could possibly substitute Harry Potter?

The candidates, of course, are many. Millions of fantasy middle-grade books have been published since Harry Potter’s release, and many more before, each one offering their readers a different world to delve into. And there has been no shortage of digging to find good ones, as evidenced by the lists of Harry Potter alternatives published online

But, to be honest, none of them capture the vibe itself: Harry Potter books are, in essence, mystery books, in which Harry Potter and his gang of friends try to discover what the villain of the series, Voldemort, is up to that year. Concurrently, Potter finds out more about the magical world he’s just stepped into, a process that mirrors the reader’s own immersion into the story. Another important characteristic is that Harry Potter is mature in its themes, tackling issues of war and grief. Even without knowing it, readers searching for alternatives are looking for these elements.

The Nevermoor Series, however, captures the vibe in its entirety. It is the perfect Harry Potter substitute that fans have been looking for. In particular, the first book, the homonymous Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow,  is an excellent case study on how Harry Potter has influenced middle grade fantasy, and how author Jessica Townsend still manages to hold on to individuality. Not only, then, is Nevermoor perfect for Harry Potter aficionados, it’s also an excellent piece of middle grade fiction that deserves to be read even by those most skeptical of books for children.

Nevermoor follows Morrigan Crow, a child who is on the “cursed children’s registrar,” due to being born on the un-auspicious day of Eventide. As such, she is doomed to make terrible things happen to those around her, as well as to die on the next Eventide, which comes sooner than expected. However, instead of meeting an untimely demise at eleven, Crow is rescued by Jupiter North, who whisks her away to another “realm,” and to the magical city of Nevermoor. 

Much like Potter, Crow is thrust into a world she doesn’t understand. Although Potter is from the “real world,” and Crow grew up in the fictional city of Jackalfax, both face the same problem—they do not understand the culture of the new world they are in, nor do they fully comprehend the magic around and inside of them. The books, then, follow the same structure: the reader finds their point of view easily mirrored in the main character’s lack of understanding of the world they are in. Their discoveries take place simultaneously. 

Of course, both protagonists are accompanied by a cast of supporting characters who help them in their state of confusion. Potter has the characters of Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and Albus Dumbledore, respectively. His two best friends, both of which know more about the Wizarding World than he does, and his wise but quirky mentor, Albus Dumbledore. Crow has similar companions: Hawthorne Swift is her dragon-riding friend who takes Crow on multiple adventures through Nevermoor, while North becomes her wacky, eluding mentor, who, much like Dumbledore, helps Crow untangle the mysteries of her new world, while keeping secrets from her.  

Crow’s story is also one of discoveries. Like Harry Potter, a series in which each of the books’ plot revolves around a central mystery, all culminating in a dramatic final installment, Crow uncovers new information at every twist and turn. Even though the books aren’t structured exactly the same, Harry Potter fans will find plenty to love, as Crow digs deep to find more information about the elusive Wundersmith, a Voldemort-like figure, who the citizens of Nevermoor are afraid to even talk about. The mysteries, however, are more complex and deeply explored in the sequel, Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow. 

These mysteries are supplemented by an incredible attention to world-building, the word fantasy authors use to describe the process of creating a fictional universe and immersing the reader in it. Crow’s world is one of quirkiness and wonder, where a gigantic talking cat roams the halls of her home, the Hotel Deucalion, and a chandelier grows in the main lobby, each day taking a different shape. Each detail of this world has been considered thoughtfully. This much is also true for Harry Potter, whose quirky vocabulary–-Muggles, alliterating names and Hogwarts, for example—has slowly made its way into the common lexicon, to name just one category of Rowling’s inventions. 

These sprawling worlds make for fertile ground for mysteries—the answers are satisfying, make sense in-universe and are rivetingly complex. Plus, every small piece of world-building is something to wonder about, an aspect of the story that can easily become a mystery if considered closely.

But, of course, the crux of Harry Potter, and what has allowed it to survive from reader’s childhoods into their adult years, is its tackling of mature themes. The structure of the books, each following Potter for a year at a magical boarding school, also allowed the audience to grow up with their favorite characters as the seriousness of the series increases. Nevermoor is no different.

The story begins to follow Crow, much like it does Potter, in the weeks leading up to her eleventh birthday, when they discover their magical worlds. When Crow arrives in Nevermoor, she is soon informed that North has enlisted her to compete in a series of trials in order to be a part of the super-exclusive Wundrous Society. And no spoilers, but this setup does eventually allow the reader to follow along Crow’s education, year by year. Although Harry Potter was not the first “magical school” book, it is definitely a staple of the genre, and fans would be left hanging without at least a twinge of that in an alternative to the series.

Not only, though, does Nevermoor allow for this same experience Harry Potter fans had when reading the books for the first time, it also thematizes complex and mature issues. The first book revolves around Crow’s trials, and she is constantly reminded by the “Stink,” the Nevermoor police force, that she is, in fact, an illegal immigrant, having come from another “realm” without the proper papers. Her continued permanence in Nevermoor is only permitted due to her special status as a Wundrous Society hopeful. Much like her real-world counterparts, Crow may never return home, due to the violence she will suffer if she does so, but the threat of deportation nevertheless hangs over her head. As the police force repeatedly reminds her, once she fails the trials, she will no longer be protected and will be returned to Jackalfax. This all-too-common situation winds itself throughout the book, as does Crow’s anxiety that she will lose all the privileges and friends she has gained by living in Nevermoor and will have to return home, to her death. Townsend masterfully explores the topic, delicately bringing to children the turmoils of immigration in a border-filled world.

This exploration does not stop here. The following books, Wundersmith and Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow both look at social ostracism, human trafficking and pandemics, for instance, as well as the weight of historical injustices. Although the series is not yet finished—Silverborn, the fourth book, is scheduled to be released in 2024, and there will be four more besides—it is clear to see a pattern here. Townsend continues to make important and complex topics palatable for children, which, purposefully or not, also happens to make her books satisfying for older audiences to read.

And satisfying it has been—Nevermoor has won awards and delighted readers, but it hasn’t yet been heralded as the next big thing. Neither does it seem like most middle-grade fantasy readers are excited about it, as a substitute for Harry Potter, or not. This, quite simply, needs to change. Nevermoor is complex in its themes, incredibly original while still holding some power over any Harry Potter fan, beautifully written, and, what’s more, narrated so very expressively by Gemma Whelan. It deserves a space in the shelfs of every middle grade aficionado, and every skeptical reader besides. 

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