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.
Description taken from Goodreads.
It started with a bakery.
I considered that a wonderful sign.
Well, I can now say (from experience) that books starting with bakeries is definitely a good sign. The Crown’s Game makes the top ten fantasy books that I’ve read this year, with its fantastic descriptions and beautiful world-building. I fell in love with the characters the way you fall off a cliff: once you jump off, you can’t stop. And oh, the dry humor.
Yes. I am a fan of that. There were so many moments where I loved the dialogue and the relationships between the characters. There was a great supporting cast with their own bits and scenes, and my only regret with them was that I didn’t get to see more. I especially loved Vika’s friend, Ludmila.
I was so scared that this book was going to end up being a cop-out. I’m sick of books with life-or-death stakes that don’t deliver, and I’m not talking about The Hunger Games. There were enough painful deaths in that.
But Skye delivers, and not all of it is pretty. Pasha, Vika, and Nikolai face real conflict, not just sugary sweet I-love-you’s and how-could-you’s. Make no mistake, the plot isn’t overshadowed by the romance. All three of them have their own struggles, worries, joys, and all three of them care about each other. That was refreshing to see, and I loved the fact that Skye showed the ups and downs in each of their relationships with each other.
None of the characters are whole. They’re all flawed, especially Vika, who can be bold and rash. However, they’re also brave, and they’re all trying their best, and that’s all I wanted to see from them. While I started out not loving Vika, I came to really enjoy her and appreciate her character. I also initially felt that Pasha was pretty half-baked as a character, but he grows up a lot throughout the novel, and Skye acknowledges how certain events shape his decisions. It was all very realistic and character-driven.
The magic in this story is absolutely beautiful. I was really happy to see the originality of Skye’s world and the ways that she perfectly incorporates Russia into the Game. It was epic to read about and I felt like I was right there with them. I’ve never really loved Russia as a setting, but The Crown’s Game has changed that.
But there’s a not-so-great part.
The magic isn’t super consistent. It’s to the point where I couldn’t explain any ground rules for the magic within this story except maybe that magic always has a physical cost, and even that wavered. I’m not a fan of the idea that just because there’s magic in the world, it can have whatever characteristics it wants. Vika and Nikolai have very loosely caged power sets, and many times throughout the novel, I felt like Vika was just a Superman character. However, to her credit, Evelyn does offer an explanation for that.
The only other thing I would say about The Crown’s Game is instalove. Instalove on all sides. It’s never explained, it’s always a “magical connection.” This wasn’t that irritating for me once I got over it, which surprised me more than the fact that I didn’t mind the love triangle, but overall, I’d say the romance was weak. I enjoyed Vika’s relationships with each of them in the middle and the end, but that doesn’t change the fact that it started with instalove.
Granted, the romance is getting stronger. What I saw in the end of the book was enough to make me look forward to the next one in the series. Pasha and Vika both face their own conflicts, and–no spoilers–they can’t really focus on loving each other right now. I appreciate that, and I can’t wait to see what’ll happen in the second book.
Overall, this was a great debut. Was it perfect? No. It was entertaining, consuming, and just deep enough for fantasy. It won’t be hard to read for those who traditionally enjoy contemporary, and it won’t be disappointing for people who love fantasy. If you’re traditionally a high-fantasy reader, I would probably recommend Leigh Bardugo or Cinda Williams Chima above this one, but this is still a solid read.
More than that, I think it’s amazing how much Skye has managed to make me dedicate myself to the second novel. While this one wasn’t 5 stars, the sequel definitely has potential if it continues what the ending started. 4 stars.
Series: The Crown’s Game #1