I was excited about The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye when I first saw the words Russia, magic, and enchanters in the same sentence. I have a soft spot for tales set in Russia (hello distant ancestors!), so that was a good start. And well, you throw magic in the middle of Imperial Russia at the height of its power and development and you pretty much have me hook, line, and sinker. The story of The Crown’s Game is one as old as time: when the Grand Enchanter of Russia dies, the magic goes back to the well to be reborn into another child. Or sometimes two. And when that happens, the crown’s game will decide which of the two enchanter if most suited to work for the Emperor and absorb the magic that the other enchanter has.
Nikolai, taken from the Kazak steppes when he was but a boy, has known all his life that he would have to enter the merciless game. Raised by a noble lady, Nikolai has had to fend for himself in all areas of his life and he isn’t about to have all that go to waste by losing the game. But Vika, raised by her father on a small island, never knew about the Crown’s Game. She assumed she was the only enchanter in Russia and was being trained until the day she would be called to serve the Tsar. So when the game is called, Vika’s plans go tumbling. She will have to kill or be killed, because no matter what happens, only one can survive the Crown’s Game.
This was the only part of The Crown’s Game that worried me. I don’t particularly enjoy storylines with the ‘There can be only one’ mentality, so there were slight reservations regarding that. Regardless, I couldn’t wait to dive into this book, especially after I was lucky enough to snag an ARC during one of the giveaways!
To keep this spoiler-free, I can’t say much about the story itself, as very little of it is actually revealed by the back of the book blurb. But it might not be exactly what you expect, and I mean this in a very good way. What I had reservations about turned out to be unnecessary, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing about this book that I disliked. There are a few things that could have been annoying (characters not realising who the other is, people not communicating, crossed wires, etc) during the book, but none of them were actually irritating, instead just adding to the tension and the story, and the general awesomeness of it all.
Skye paints a vivid Russia, from the lush countryside of Vika’s island, to the beauty of St Petersburg. There is plenty of life and vivid details to Skye’s world and it is easy to picture her world. It is also very easy to end up fancying all manners of sweet treats when reading this book (Ludmila, I blame you!). The characters are just as detailed as the world, painted with the ease of an expert, they come alive on the page in full colour. And it is impossible not to get attached to them, not just the main three that are Nikolai, Pasha, and Vika, but also the secondary characters.
Diversity comes from the Kazak characters that we see, not just Nikolai who is half Kazak and looks it, but also various background characters that bring diversity to Skye’s Russia. There is no LGBT reference but in between the very small cast and the fact that this takes place in Orthodox Russia at a time where being gay was most definitely not safe, it did not feel like a lack, merely like something that was simply not relevant. So in that aspect there will be no points lost from the end rating and definitely so plusses for Nikolai’s origins!
The Crown’s Game isn’t just the story of two enchanters having to fight for a place at the side of the Tsar: it’s a story of friendship, of young love, of self-discovery and self-acceptance. It is a story about being different in a myriad of ways and trying to find ways to fit in only to find that your place in the world might not be what you always imagined it to be. And overall, it is a story of imagination, of dreams and possibilities.
I cried and I laughed and I cheered and I raged during this book. I wanted to scream at terrible parents, at the insensitivity of those who do not understand difference. I wanted to hug Pasha and Nikolai and Vika in turn. More than anything, I do not want it to end. And yet I couldn’t quite stop reading. The Crown’s Game will do that to you, it will draw you in softly at first and then, before you know it, you will be so immersed within its pages that you won’t want to come out again. You will need to know what the next chapter will bring; what new twist or surprise await you on the next page.
The Crown’s Game is definitely going to be a very strong contender for my top 5 books this year and I feel so very lucky that I got to read it early! That does, however, mean that now I need to wait longer for book 2. And I need the sequel like I need air, because that ending. Oh man, that ending. It was one of those whereupon turning the last page all you can do is stare at the book in your hands, endlessly whispering that no, no it cannot end like this.
The Crown’s Game was a delectable read, as wonderful and magical as Ludmila’s fancy little cakes, and I find myself already missing the main trio I had grown so fond of. This is a book I am going to be singing the praises of for ages and ages, because the world needs to know how good this is!