Title: The Crown’s Game
Author: Evelyn Skye
Genre: YA / Fantasy
Series: The Crown’s Game Duology
Synopsis: 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.
Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.
And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose. (taken from Goodreads)
Just by the summary, The Crown’s Game promises magic, romance, and danger at every turn. A game of intrigue, in which two Enchanters must prove themselves worthier than the other, and where one of them has to end up dead. Sounds great, right? But I wish I could say that I liked it.
Unfortunately, the book fails to pull through with its promises and comes off as lackluster in every way. The characters have no personality outside their respective archetypes. I didn’t care for them and I wasn’t attached to any of them. The plot throws cliché trope after trope at us, making it extremely predictable. And I didn’t feel like there were any genuine risks in the story. A shame, since it actually had lots of potential. I was left constantly hoping for something more to happen because what we did get wasn’t very satisfying.
An extremely disappointing read. Definitely not for those who are after more than your typical trope-filled-romance-that-tries-to-pass-itself-off-as-a-fantasy YA book.
This portion of the review is a slightly more in-depth discussion of the book and will contain spoilers/rants/raves. Read at your own discretion.
I’m going to go ahead and say it; this was basically the Night Circus but set in Russia. A magical duel between a boy and a girl, both bound to the game with some sort of seal, but then they fall in love and everything turns complicated. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, I was actually excited to dive into the book because 1) I love the Night Circus and 2) I’ve been wanting to read more Russian-based books after the Grisha Trilogy.
Even though this book was generally an easy read, it took me some time to sort of get into the groove of it. I think it was about halfway through when I was finally reading at a decent pace. It was okay. Just okay. There wasn’t anything special that gripped me and therein, I think, lies the problem.
There was no tension.
It failed to evoke strong emotion, positive or otherwise. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. Not a single character. My main problem is that they were all so one-dimensional. Their charactertizations relied too heavily on archetypes for them to feel like real people. I couldn’t connect with them and I wasn’t actively shipping anyone, despite the love triangle (which was useless but I’ll get into that later).
Vika. Very spunky. From the start of the book, we see her with immense confidence in her abilities. Fuck yes. She knows she’s powerful and she’s determined to win the game. I was extremely excited to see her make use of her magic but I was let down. The part with the forest and the burning trees was her best scene, and that wasn’t even part of the game! Her personality doesn’t seem to exist beyond her magic.
Nikolai was one of the better characters. I actually thought he was interesting but like other things, the execution of his character fell flat for me. It’s funny because I liked everything about him. His backstory, his personality, his character quirks. I liked that he was good at making clothes, and was always wearing a top hat. He was great! But there was something lacking that kept me from getting fully invested in him.
I didn’t like Pasha. He seemed interesting enough at first, and I really, really liked his friendship with Nikolai. But then mid-way through the book, he started to act like a creep. Vika this. Vika that. All he could think about was Vika and it drove me nuts. He sees her once, becomes obsessed with her, and then we get a shit ton of cheesy lines like this:
“But he did not admit it to himself, either aloud or even quietly in his own head, that he was interested in the girl for more than just her magic.”
And there’s my personal favorite:
“If he could, Pasha would have sucked the sugar off her finger.”
I had to close the book and stare at the wall after reading that. It isn’t sexy. It isn’t romantic. It’s awkward as hell. Also, I hate how Pasha uses Sergei’s death as an opportunity to get closer to Vika. I really can’t bring myself to believe that he genuinely cares about her. Why? Let me direct you to this glorious paragraph:
“Pasha sat back in his seat and looked at her scowl. She was still beautiful, but with her expression as black as her hair, her beauty was of a fiercer kind. An almost frightening kind. After Vika’s warnings about the danger of magic, Pasha wondered if he’d taken the recent enchantments too lightly, and if he’d fallen too easily under Vika’s spell.”
Seriously? Vika just told him that her father had died and that she found out her whole life had been nothing but a lie… and that’s how Pasha reacts? He doesn’t even bother to comfort her. And when she does seek comfort on his shoulder, all he does is smile and think about how nice she smells.
And then we have the “love triangle.” Actually, it wasn’t even that since it was pretty clear who the main couple was going to be. The only point of Pasha being included in the love triangle was to add more drama because oh! Now the crown prince has to choose between his best friend (and half-brother, which was a predictable plot twist, by the way) and the love of his life! Yeah, no. I didn’t feel any competition. Pasha didn’t stand a chance. Not that Vika and Nikolai’s romance was any better though. Their “love” was based on the attraction from their magic. They touch once and bam! They feel a connection unlike any other, yadda yadda yadda.
“Her touch, even through their gloves, resonated to that etherial part of his core he could only describe as his soul.”
“And then she remembered that tugging between them, that feeling that even though Nikolai was her opponent, he was also her other half.”
Cue eyeroll. Other half. They know so little about each other, barely spent time with one another, and she refers to him as her other half. Right.
Renata was an unnecessary character. I don’t see her point. I don’t see why she’s in love with Nikolai. I don’t care about her tea leaves. Taking her out of the story wouldn’t affect the plot in any way. More than anything, she was a nuisance, thrown into the plot to make an already unnecessary love triangle seem more complex.
Aizhana genuinely bugged me. Listen. She literally rises from the dead after eighteen years and the first thing she does is walk up to a group of women to tell them a story. Really? Why would a half-dead woman even waste time telling a story? Especially one who was supposedly desperate to be reunited with her son? And if I were the tribeswomen, I would have sprinted the fuck out of there. The scene just felt so forced and out-of-place. Also, how the hell did she even know Nikolai was Enchanter One? During the big revelation scene with the tsar, she says something like, “I bore a son. His name was Nikolai but you may know him as Enchanter One.” Only those present during the oath knew, and I don’t recall Vika going, “Oh Nikolai is Enchanter One and I’m Enchanter Two” during her conversation with Renata.
The game wasn’t even a game. Rather than fighting each other to the death, the game was more of an elaborate show where each enchanter tries to see who can better entertain the people of St. Petersburg. I honestly do not understand how making water change color or having mechanical dolls perform a dance can help prove an enchanter’s worth. They’re at war. I don’t know, I was just expecting something more cunning? Riskier? They even stopped trying to kill each other during their third turns. I thought it was ridiculous how they were unwilling to be brutal when they were trying to fight for the position of the Imperial Enchanter. I mean, what did they expect being an Imperial Enchanter would be about? Turning enemy weapons into glitter and making rainbows appear in the sky?
Other things that bothered me: Everyone gapes and gasps. I think I might have counted eight or nine moments of gasping. There were also times where either Vika or Nikolai would charm their face to hide their surprise, which I couldn’t understand. If they were surprised, I don’t think they would be able to react quickly enough to be able to charm themselves before anyone else caught their reactions. Then there were chapters that lasted one or two pages. I never got the point of that and I personally don’t like them. There was even one chapter that had only three sentences. Really, what was the point of that?
Okay, I’m being a little harsh here so let’s get to some of the things that I did like. The enchantments. After I got over my initial disappointment of the duel not actually being a duel, I actually liked them. While their first moves were rather stupid, the rest I sort of enjoyed. The imagery of some of the turns were wonderful, like the dance with the dolls and the benches. I found the magic system to be pretty intriguing; the fact that an enchanter can only call upon the magic of their own land and not anyone else’s was cool. I also liked how Vika and Nikolai’s magic were sort of opposites. Vika excels with living things and nature while Nikolai’s strength lies in manmade objects.
I’ll probably read the second book since I already have it but my expectations definitely won’t be so high this time around.