The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
Book One of The Crown's Game series
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
What I Liked:
When I started reading this book, I had extremely low expectations. For about a year, I'd been so excited to read it! Nineteenth-century Russia and magic? Count me in! But then I heard from early (earlier?) reviewers that there was a love triangle and... my excitement plummeted. But at that point, I had the eARC, so I knew I would be reading the book regardless. While I obviously didn't absolutely adore the book, I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would! My rating is more like 3.5 stars, but I'm definitely rounding down.
Vika has been brought up by her father to believe that she is the only Enchanter in Russia (usually, only one is born per generation). There hasn't been an Imperial Enchanter in years. When the Crown's Game is called, Vika and her father are confused; the Game is between two Enchanters, the other being Nikolai Karimov. Nikolai used to be a poor orphan from the steppe, but he was taken in by a Russian noblewoman to train him and help sharpen his magic. Nikolai has been friends with Pasha, the crown prince of the Russian tsardom. When the Game is called, Vika and Nikolai meet behind veils and shadows, but their aura and magic are recognizable to each other anywhere. Like calls to like, and while the Crown's Game is a fierce magical tournament in which one Enchanter wins and the other dies, Vika and Nikolai discover that they do not how to play this game against each other, when their feelings grow. The Crown's Game is unfolding, but so is the empire and its secrets, secrets that could change everything.
This book is told from a looooooot of people's POVs. We have Vika, Nikolai, Pasha, Renata, Galina, Sergei, Ludmila, Aizhana, Yuliana, and a small part from the Tsar himself. Vika and Nikolai are our Enchanters. Pasha is the crown prince (very rogueish, flirtatious, fun-loving, not-series future tsar), Yuliana his younger sister (no-nonsense, iron will, would be a better heir, in my opinion). Sergei is Vika's father. Ludmila is a baker whom Vika buys bread from, and Ludmila comes to St. Petersburg when Vika is called to the Crown's Game. Galina is the woman that took Nikolai in when he was only seven or eight. Renata is a servant in Galina's household, and a friend of Nikolai. Aizhana is... extremely important, but I won't reveal who she is. This book is written entirely in third person (of which I am a huge fan).
The most important three characters (arguably) are Vika, Nikolai, and Pasha. I didn't hate or love Vika; she's stereotypical in that she is fierce and determined and powerful (a lot of heroines in YA fantasy seem to be so, these days). Her magic is highly elemental, and she wields it well. Nikolai is elegant and poised and quiet and responsible. His magic is (in my opinion) just as powerful as Vika's, but more subtle and less wild. Pasha is the complete opposite of Nikolai (in temperament) - he is always dragging Nikolai to some new adventure, or skipping important meetings, or not being interested in crops or uprisings or potential for war. Yuliana, on the other hand... she's got the brains to be a really structured tsarina (too bad she's not the heir - right?).
My favorite protagonist was Nikolai. Among the secondary characters, I think Ludmila was my favorite. She is kind and hilarious and a genuinely good person. Sergei too, and Renata.
The author did an amazing job with the world-building, the setting, and all the imagery supporting the setting. I haven't read too many books set in historical Russia (1820s), but I can tell how well the author knows what she is writing about. There were a lot of times in the book in which the author needed to vividly describe different places in Russia, and each scene was very realistic and yet imaginative. I can see why so many people fell in love with this book's world-building, setting.
I can't believe I'm going to say this... I like where the romance is heading. You can probably tell but I'm a huge fan of Nikolai, and therefore, a huge fan of Nikolai and Vika. It's very obvious that these two are slowly falling for each other throughout the story. Pasha thinks he is falling for Vika as well, but to me, it seemed more like an obsession (new shiny thing, you know?). I'll talk about the love triangle in the next section, but I don't think this will grow to be one anymore than it is in this book. And in this book, Vika only returns the feelings of one boy. And she kisses neither/neither kiss her (though she thinks about kissing one of them, and he does the same). You can probably figure out which one I'm talking about. *winks*
The ending was cruel (which I'll talk about below), but at the same time, there was a VERY hopeful tone to it, especially within the last few sentences of the epilogue. I didn't think I would find myself looking forward to reading the sequel, but, I will be looking out for it next year!
What I Did Not Like:
It took me forever to really get into the story. The beginning is very slow. Now, it could be because the author was busy setting up the world and the setting and the scene. But the first, hmmm, one third of the book? Pretty boring.
Obviously, the love triangle. This love triangle really isn't bad, but the fact that it even exists bothers me. This one, in this story, is a nuisance. To me, it seems so obvious that Vika and Nikolai are a great pair together, and their feelings run deep. Pasha... he's too flirtatious. Too charmed by pretty things. He hasn't even thought far enough ahead about things like marriage (no, I don't think you can marry your potential future Imperial Enchanter, that would present a conflict of interest), or the tsardom.
I don't see the love triangle "blooming" in the next book, especially given that this is book one of two (yay duology). But can we talk about HOW CLICHE it is, for the crown prince and his best friend to both fall for the "shiny new thing" female? I'm over it!
While I'm on the topic of romance -- the romance in this book was NOT steamy at all. There were no kisses, no touches, no heated glances. I mean, you can clearly tell that Nikolai and Vika have some serious tension, and you can also tell that anything Pasha "feels" is completely in his head. But this book lacks physical evidence of chemistry (though you know it is there, between Nikolai and Vika).
I actually didn't really like Pasha; he's too carefree and naive and a little selfish. He would make a terrible tsar, and it's obvious that if his younger sister had a chance, she would walk all over him and rule as tsarina through him as tsar. Pasha has no spine, not even at the ending, when he did some bad things. He was just being a complete dumba**.
The ending was so bad. I had been seeing it coming ever since the beginning, ever since reading the synopsis and seeing that Nikolai would fall for Vika. But that didn't make the ending any less painful. It was painful! But as I said above, hopeful too. I have a good feeling that the ending won't stick.
For the people that already read this book, and are concerned about the love triangle and/or the ending of this book staying or sticking, I recommend reading the acknowledgements in the back of the book. See what the author mentions, when she first started writing the story. And maybe look up the history of Russia.
Would I Recommend It:
I see the appeal. I really do. I was determined to hate this book, upon starting it, because of what I had heard about the love triangle. But before I had heard about the love triangle, I had been SO excited to read this book. So... I get it. I see the appeal. And I kind of would recommend this to mot people. But maybe not someone like me who hates love triangles (hey, someone has to be the love triangle filterer though, right?). It's an incredible story and has beautiful world-building, but maybe wait until book two publishes to binge-read the series (if you hate love triangles).
3.5 stars -> rounded down to 3 stars. I enjoyed the book! Slow start, and the love triangle was a thing, and the ending was unreal, but I liked this book. I will be reading the sequel, which is the conclusion to this series.
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