Wednesday 25 October 2017

The Crown's Game (The Crown's Game #1), Evelyn Skye

Do you believe in what you cannot see?
Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. The tsar 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. 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.

* * * *
4 / 5 

With The Crown's Game, I did something unusually out of character for me: I eagerly picked up a book that I knew, for a fact, had a love triangle in it. I knew this because it says it on the back. I did this because The Crown's Game promised magic, a game to the death, folklore, and a killer setting, and boy did it deliver on most of these points. 
Imagine and it shall be. There are no limits

Vika Andreyeva is the daughter of a baron, living out her life on Ovchinin Island, in seclusion from mainland Russia. Her father is raising her to be the Imperial Enchanter, to protect the Tsar, and her powers are primarily elemental: she is a summoner of storms, a ravager of fire. Vika is a dangerous and fiery woman and her to-be-opponent, Nikolai Karimov, is almost exactly her opposite. An orphan, Nikolai was bought on the Steppes by a woman with a little skill in sorcery who brings him to St. Petersburg where he becomes the friend of the Tsesarevich, heir presumptive to the Russian Empire, Pasha Romanov. His magic is more imaginative: he turns walls transparent, crafts exquisite clothing, and has a particular interest in bridge-building. 

The youngest  daughter of the Tsar, Yuliana Romanov, is cunning child. She sees weakness in Russia and urges her father to choose an Imperial Enchanter in a time where magic is forgotten by the common people; but when a land has two enchanters, one must die in a competition called The Crown's Game. When the game is instigated Vika and Nikolai are branded with magic, each given five "turns" to display their magic and their suitability to advise the Tsar. In keeping with the book's focus on romance rather than swords, Vika and Nikolai's turns are beautiful and extravagant. Vika enchants waterways and fountains, turning the waters rainbow-hued whilst Nikolai creates an enchanted wardrobe for the ladies of the realm. The game is, obviously, quite a key part of the novel but around it is threaded not only the romance, which I shall get to in a moment, but Vika's relationship with her father and Nikolai's unknown mother (this part of the story is wildly unbelievable and a little bit nuts), and Pasha's grappling with his royal duties.

"If I think highly of myself, it is because it is well deserved"

The characters are a massive focal point of the book. I adored Vika, though she had her moments where I thought "what the heck is this girl doing", and thought her brave and admirable. I liked Nikolai a little less, he's a more stereotypical boy dragged up from poverty who doesn't quite feel at home among nobility story, but he has his charming moments. I absolutely loved Pasha, who is also a touch predictable in his boy who is prince but doesn't want to be arc, and his sister Yuliana, who I wish there was more of. The other distinctive bit of the book is the nineteenth century Russian setting; I have no historical or current knowledge of Russia, so I cannot comment on Skye's authenticity, but I can say that I enjoyed it. 

She wanted again to hold on to him, and have him hold on to her, so they could whirl together through the cosmos like galaxies that could not - and would not - be confined

Finally, the romance. It does dominate the plot but it does suit the tone and style of the book; Skye's writing is pretty magical, smooth and soft and enveloping, and whilst it isn't quite as amazing as The Night Circus or Strange the Dreamer, it's pretty good. Vika and Nikolai don't instantly fall in love, but it's close. I did enjoy the romance and I did think it added tension to the overall "one of you must die" plot, but I wasn't sure that Pasha's infatuation with Vika was necessary. Fascination, yes, he just saw the girl set a forest on fire, but love? I do think that there is a lot here for the romance-genre reader to enjoy!

The ending was a touch disappointing and also cruel at the same time; I definitely guessed where it was going and thought the final scene was a bit of a cop-out, but I'm looking forward to seeing where the sequel takes us. 

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