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.
With all the hype surrounding The Crown’s Game, I was expecting a lot more than what I got. I didn’t dislike the book by all means – it was well-written, had a captivating plot, and certainly managed to keep me reading. But it wasn’t enough for me to love the book as much as everyone else did. My disconnect with the characters and the slow pace in the beginning are certainly a contribution, but in the end I just had my hopes way too high for this one.
The premise of this story is fairly simple: there is a game where two enchanters duel to their deaths. They must impress the Tsar, or kill the other one, or both. From the beginning we find out the different backgrounds of the two competitors, Nikolai and Vika. Vika was raised isolated from the city by her father, thinking she is the only enchanter, while Nikolai has grown up knowing that he’ll have to compete to get the position of the Tsar’s enchanter. The characterizations are really quite well-done in this story, and each of them stand out in their own way. You can see the differences of both Nikolai and Vika through their actions and magic. Nikolai has grown up fending for himself, despite having a mentor. His abilities focus on mechanical things. On the other hand, Vika provides a nice foil by being a manipulator of the elements. She was raised with love by her father and is new to St. Petersburg society when she arrives there to participate in the Game.
“There’s no escaping death. Either I’ll be defeated and therefore die, or I’ll triumph but live with the guilt of sentencing the girl to her end. There is no such thing as a winner in the Game.”
My problem with the characters – each and every one of them – was just how damn nice they were. This is called a “Game,” but in actuality it’s a duel to the death. A lot of my fellow readers have likened it to the Hunger Games, in a way. Do I see cutthroat action and assassination attempts in the midst of the night? No. What I see are half-hearted attempts at killing one another that oozes out pulpy bits of regret. Both Vika and Nikolai don’t want the other to die. But the niceness doesn’t stop there! Pasha, for all his actions, was also charming and easy-to-like (I just didn’t like his character on principle. Sorry guys, I’m a bit sick of nice princes in YA literature). EVEN THE SUPPOSED ANTAGONIST WAS NICE. I understand that having multiple sides of a character brings them dimension, but here’s the thing – I couldn’t see where any of them had a particular bad side. The only semblance of an antagonist had her reasons for doing what she did – and they were understandable! It’s probably just a “me” problem, but I was waiting for a character I would love to hate, or someone who was just plain, well, evil. The only sides I get in this story are nice people doing not-nice things, while still trying to be nice. Save it for another reader.
Like I mentioned before, neither Nikolai nor Vika wanted to kill the other, so don’t expect a lot of action in this book. I know I did, and I was sorely disappointed. We get a ton of creative enchantments though! Both competitors of the game try to impress the Tsar with their magical abilities, and that was interesting to read about. I’m really hoping to see more exploration with this magic and action in general in the continuing books. The main thing about The Crown’s Game is that despite all the quotes about it being one where someone dies, I was never afraid of a character dying. Maybe it’s because of years of reading fiction, but never once while reading was I scared for their lives. Does one of them die? Hmm well now, that’s for you to find out, isn’t it? Either way, my apathy for this subject that is supposed to be a heavy focus in the plot really shouldn’t have been there at all.
I wish I could give the romance a “You tried” star. Like, thanks for playing the game! But I couldn’t feel the chemistry at all. With any of the multiple love interests. It’s a love square where you see the attachments that could form, but the characters stay true to their feelings. So if you’re backing away because of a love triangle thing, then no worries on that front. Skye’s writing was absolutely enchanting, and reading the romance scenes just made my heart sigh with contentment.
“But now there was suddenly another enchanter in his life, and he felt a paradoxical kinship with her. It dissolved the edges of his loneliness, like finding the path home after years of wandering the wilderness on his own.”
However, I felt no foundation for the support of such lovely words and descriptions. I get that they are attracted to how similar they are in terms of magical abilities, but is there anything else? I doubt they would think the same if one of the other didn’t have the powers of an enchanter. I wanted more of a basis for these heartfelt glances and touches, and instead it just sprang up out of nowhere.
“She was the sun, and he was a mere rock, drawn in by her gravity. He needed to be closer, to feel her magic, to touch… her. He trembled at the thought. And he took a step in her direction.”
Beautiful prose, but if she didn’t have magic… would you really have gone for her?
I found Pasha’s character absolutely irritating, and not just because of his ridiculous actions near the end. Maybe I’m just not in the mood for cute princes anymore, but all his charm made me rolling my eyes the whole time. Is it just me that gets upset at these characters that are supposed to capture the heart of the readers? Seems like I’ve grown cynical. Either way, I saved up a paragraph in my review just to write a complaint about how extra he is.
The setting was rich in culture, and the lavish streets of St. Petersburg made me absolutely starry-eyed. I love Skye’s descriptions and the way it just transports you into that moment. There aren’t many YA books that show Russian culture, but this is one that definitely paints a magical picture of it!
Skye has an absolutely lovely writing that’ll keep you reading throughout. I know many people loved the forbidden romance going on and the determined characters, but I was a bit more wary. They are all too sweet for me! It was a feeling of liking them, but also being irrationally annoyed at how nice they were. Following that was the plot, which was oh-so reminiscent of The Night Circus, which I completely and utterly enjoyed. It didn’t have the mysterious and mystic quality of the aforementioned book though, and I found the characters in this one hard to connect to in general. My eyes will definitely be peeled for the next in the trilogy! For now, I’ll be content with being the black sheep.