Book Review: The Crown’s Game (2016)

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The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game, #1) by Evelyn Skye


I absolutely devoured this wintry gem of a book. It’s a perfect romance read that takes two gifted magic users drawn into a competition by the Tsar to be the Imperial Enchanter for all of Russia. In this alternate history world, each country has its own source of magic to protect itself. Usually this task falls to one person, who is trained by those who can use small amounts of magic, but none so powerful as them. (I was a little confused by the magic system, but I have a feeling it’ll be made more clear in the next book so I’m being patient!) But in this book’s generation of magic users – which, we learn, has happened before on rare occasions – two are born with the powers of the Imperial Enchanter. And so the Tsar pits them against each other – to the death.

Vika and Nikolai, the two competing in this game, have been trained all their lives in secret by a pair of siblings at odds with each other. (I really liked the brother and sister dynamic of their guardians and how that developed during their chapters.) Where Vika’s guardian has treated her like his daughter and she loves him, Nikolai’s guardian has treated him like a soldier with little in the way of love ever showed to him. The contest forces the pair’s paths to cross (although they run into each other by accident beforehand), but it’s basically love at first sight for these two. And it’s so well done. Honestly. I really enjoyed the way they developed the romance. It’s both insta-love and not, but if you’re wary of insta-love, I can assure you that even if they’re drawn towards each other, the rest develops quite slowly and nothing is rushed! Despite wearing disguises that hide their identities and setting up wards to keep themselves safe and hidden, the pair are magically drawn to each other even when tasked with outperforming each other to survive. Their magicks mirror and complement each other; two halves of the same coin type of thing.

Despite how truly grim the circumstances and the dark end result of the game – that one of them is destined to die – the competition itself isn’t dark or grim for the most part. The pair compete with each other to impress the Tsarevich, who also happens to be Nikolai’s best friend, Pasha. (FUCK YOU PASHA.) Their competition mainly centres around cleaning up and repainting the neighbourhoods; building an elaborate glass pumpkin filled with pastries and goodiess; creating an island of wonders with dream-chairs and more besides. It’s not a duel-duel (at least not until the very end). And as Nikolai and Vika are busy turning Saint Petersburg into a festive town with mood lighting and tasty treats and grand balls, they also fall in love. Alas, Pasha is also falling in love with Vika, although he knows nothing of magic or the Crown’s Game, as his father is keeping that a secret from him. He ends up researching on his own and learning the truth about Vika, but not Nikolai. I did like Pasha at first. I thought he was spoiled and naïve, but good-hearted. But oooh, by the end I just did not like his choices. I’m furious about his behaviour in the last few chapters. Just, ugh. FUCK YOU PASHA.

There’s another POV character that I thought was perhaps the most fascinating but I don’t want to spoil her role so I’ll just be vague. We don’t learn her real identity and how she plays into the plot until a bit later on, but I thought she was an interesting foil for the characters. Truly grim and sad though. That whole side plot rather broke my heart honestly and I’m very curious to see where it goes in the next book.

This book reads at times like a fairy tale; at times it’s almost dreamlike, and then other moments are just like nightmares. Like the light-dreamlike parts are very wintry-cosy, but the contrast between those and the dark bits is striking. Honestly, The Crown’s Game is wonderfully done, the characters all interesting and vivid, and I can’t wait to read book two!


– Between the Shadow & Bone TV show and my rewatch of Anastasia earlier this month, and now this, I’m on a historical Russian-inspired fantasy roll. This one takes place in an alternate Imperial Russia, where the Tsar uses a magical enchanter to help protect the crown. Normally there’s only one, but this time Vika and Nikolai are both training for the title.
– Pasha and Yuliana are sweet siblings so far. Clearly Yuliana is going to be a force to be reckoned with, although the fact that she’s thinking two steps ahead of both her brother and her father, whilst her brother is the heir, makes me wonder how that’s going to go for them.

Check out my master list of book reviews here, and my indie book reviews with the genres labelled here.

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