Book: The Crown’s Game
Author: Evelyn Skye
This book was my #RockMyTBR book for February and I was really excited to read it for several reasons. Firstly, Russia is such an amazing country with such an interesting history, I did Russian History during my A-Levels, and it was just so fascinating to me, especially the time of the Tsars, so naturally, I was incredibly excited when I heard that this book was about Imperial Russia. Secondly, magic is basically my biggest love in stories so obviously I loved the idea of the Game and the the enchantments. And finally, my friend read it and loved it and she has very similar taste in books to me, so all signs were pointing towards me loving it. And for the most part, aside from a few minor niggles, I really, really did! Here is a short synopsis of the book:
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.
I’m not going to lie, this was a slow starter. It wasn’t until the Game actually started around 18 chapters in to the book that I started getting invested and even then, the action doesn’t really pick up until about the last 20-30 chapters. Still, it helped that the chapters were relatively short, because despite the fact that there was little action initially, the short chapters helped keep a regular pace, so I didn’t get bogged down in the same way that I would with a longer chapter book. I like it when books have a nice mix of longer and shorter chapters and Evelyn Skye struck that balance well.
I feel like a pronunciation guide could have been helpful, there were quite a few Russian names at the beginning of the book and they were kind of confusing to read, so a pronunciation guide would have gone a long way!
The magic in this was incredible! I loved how it ranged from more simple enchantments, right up to all this big fancy stuff. There was a bit I particularly loved, right at the start of the book, where Nikolai is organising books with his magic and I so wish I could do that! It would be so helpful. The enchantments for the Game were pretty impressive too, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say what any of them are, but they are suitably beautiful. I also liked how the magic in this didn’t really seem like anything I’d seen before, to have a magic system feel unique in YA fantasy is quite the achievement!
I loved the characters, Vika was so cheeky and fierce and as soon as she first appeared, I got the feeling that I was going to like her, and I was right. Her elemental magic was very much up my street, especially considering that my current WIP is all about elemental magic so I naturally got very excited about that. I also really loved Pasha, he was just this adorable, charming, cinnamon roll who must be protected at all costs. I wasn’t so keen on Nikolai, I felt like we didn’t really get a good enough sense of his personality? I’m hoping that will come across more in the next book, because he seemed kind of bland in this one. Pasha’s sister Yuliana was a total bitch, but I kind of felt sorry for her because it’s clear that she would make a much better ruler than Pasha, just no one gives her the time of day because she’s a girl.
I also want to take a second here to talk about poor Renata, because she really seems to get the raw end of the deal here. Renata is the household servant in the house where Nikolai stays (he lives with his tutor Galina who took him in as an orphan from the Kazakh Steppe) and of course has been desperately in love with Nikolai for years. He does not return her feelings and Renata pines. That really seems to be her only purpose here, pining after Nikolai and aside from her skills at reading tea leaves, she’s not developed much. I found that quite disappointing and I hope that now it has been firmly established she has no future with Nikolai, that her character will be developed more in the next book.
There is so much food in this book! Vika’s surrogate mother of sorts, Ludmila runs a bakery and she’s constantly baking gorgeous treats. I felt hungry like half the time, but in the best way. I think we can all agree that books are greatly improved with a huge amount of delicious cake right?
Speaking of Ludmila, I loved her. She was just this lovely, cheerful, cheeky baker and her relationship with Vika was just brilliant, they definitely seemed to have a kind of mother/daughter relationship going on and I would love to see that more in the next book.
I liked that the early part of the Game had a bit of a violent streak, although somewhat disappointingly, this fell away a little in the middle but thankfully it picked up again at the end (in fact Skye more than made up for it with the dark end). Still it was compelling to read and the stakes always felt high which kept me invested in the outcome. The enchantments were incredible and whilst I’ve read some criticism of how powerful Vika and Nikolai were (though Vika’s strength is explained), I think it worked really well for what the author wanted and I liked that they were so impressive!
THERE WAS A MASQUERADE! I’m sorry for the all caps, but I have an insane love of all things masquerade. There’s just something so gorgeous and magical about them. It went on for like five chapters and I was just in heaven with all the pretty dresses and the dancing and everything.
I wasn’t completely sold on the romance? I mean we had the dreaded love triangle (ugh) which is bad enough, but neither guy really felt like they had chemistry with Vika. I felt like Nikolai and Vika’s connection seemed somewhat superficial, just based on the fact that they both have magic. Pasha’s interest in Vika seemed more like puppy love and whilst I did feel slightly more of a connection there, it was only really on a friends thing. I think I know where this triangle will go in the next book, but I’m not really all that invested in it.
Also please can no more friendships be ruined by the dreaded triangle? Okay, I mean that’s not the only reason Pasha and Nikolai’s friendship kind of fell apart, but seriously, I really don’t want anymore friendships being ruined because of common love interests. Get it together guys! You had a good thing going there for a while. I hope their relationship rebuilds in the next book.
The setting was yes, glorious but I loved Evelyn Skye’s writing even more. Everything seemed to come alive on the page, it was like the book itself was infused with a little magic and I loved that. The vividness of the writing just added to the gorgeousness of the setting to create one incredibly beautiful book.
There were a lot of great plot twists in the latter half of the book which were executed really well, I didn’t really see anything of them coming but they fit well and didn’t seem at all random which was good.
I feel like there were certain aspects of the world building could have done with more development, I could have done with more explanation of the magic system for instance, but overall, Skye did establish a vivid and interesting world and I look forward to seeing her explore it more in the next book.
Overall this was a promising start to a new duology, whilst there were some issues with the world development and the romances and suffered a little from the whole too slow at the start and then almost overwhelmingly intense at the end combination, it was still a beautiful book, with fantastic magic, great characters, lovely writing and who can forget all the FOOD? I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Skye goes in the conclusion to this duology!
My Rating: 3.5/5
My next review will be of my latest Netgalley read, the newest instalment in Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel Trilogy, Traitor To The Throne!