Title: The Crown’s Game (2016)
Series: The Crown’s Game – Book 1
Author: Evelyn Skye
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 399 pages
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.
And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Crown’s Game ever since I read the blurb. Magical duels are something I’m interested in by default, and when the stakes are high, I love it even more. This book, however, was rather underwhelming and ended up being much more of a romance story than a fantasy story, which is a terrible, terrible shame.
I actually quite enjoyed the first few chapters of this book, but not much else thereafter. I liked getting to know Vika and Nikolai, their family, their history, their magic… but once the Game actually started, the plot just falls into pieces. Gone was the anticipation and the horror of what might come; what was in place was pretty much child’s play.
“For the winner of the game, there would be unimaginable power. For the defeated, desolate oblivion. The Crown’s Game was not one to lose.”
The biggest issue of The Crown’s Game is that despite its title and blurb, the Game failed horribly to deliver. This was no ‘ancient duel of magical skill’, because what Vika and Nikolai performed were simply facelifts of Russia: the making of a new island, the designing of an impressive ball gown made out of ice, the creation of new bridges and benches. Hardly ‘the greatest test an enchanter will ever know’, really. Not once in this book was I worried for either of their livelihoods, because it just wasn’t dangerous.
I was also extremely, extremely confused by how the Game chooses the winner. Every person gets five turns, but how do you decide when a turn ends, or what constitutes as a ‘turn’? Nikolai’s and Vika’s powers were also very different, and I don’t see any way they could be fairly compared. These loopholes could be solved if they were addressed at all, but all the characters just accept it and don’t question it at all.
The characters weren’t anything special, and the main three actually struck me as more immature than anything else. Vika was somewhat spoiled and brash, and Nikolai her broody, angsty love interest. Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and the tsarevich, is irresponsible and honestly kind of annoying, mostly there just to add to the love triangle. I actually liked some of the minor characters — Renata, Ludmila — but they don’t appear nearly as much to make me actually care about them either.
Pasha knocked on Nikolai’s head. “Then if you’re not asleep, talk to me. You’re my best friend. I think I love her, and she might die.”
Nikolai peered up from the table. “You cannot love her. You hardly know her.”
Pot calling kettle black, Nikolai, because honestly, the insta-love in this book is actually painful. The moment Pasha spots Vika, he’s immediately besotted with her. For Nikolai and Vika, it took several sights and a single touch — certainly not enough substance for a healthy, long-lasting relationship. All three characters probably have at most five conversations with their love interest before they decided they’re in love (and it’s love, not lust), and frankly, it’s just ridiculous.
The setting in The Crown’s Game is modelled after Imperial Russia. Now, I haven’t been there and don’t know enough to speak on its accuracy, but this review here highlighted some of the things that Skye didn’t get right. Accuracy aside, however, I did think that the writing style lends to some very vivid, colourful imagery to play out in my mind’s eye, so I don’t have many complaints about that.
Overall, though, this book was quite a disappointment. While I enjoyed Skye’s writing style, both the world-building and the plot were very thin, with not much to work with. The characters were bland, and the insta-love didn’t help either. It’s really too bad. 😦