Book Title: The Crown's Game (The Crown's Game #01) Author: Evelyn Skye Number of pages: 399
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.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– The concept of the duel is interesting but there are holes in the magic system that could have been better explained
– The writing pairs a vividly imagined Russia with exciting action sequences
– Most of the characters in this multi-POV narration feel like do-gooders and are rarely “grey”
– Romance takes a lot of precedence over plot and features love squares via instalus; including a lot of wandering gazes and lingering thoughts
Full disclosure: I received an ARC of The Crowns Game from Chapters Indigo.
The blurb for The Crown’s Game is brilliantly written because what I was expecting from the duel was a magical bloodbath of moral ambiguity — think Hunger Games “life-and-death competition” ish — but the duel is not even close to that degree of murderous intent. And difference is good (or else everyone would be chirping it’s similarities). It’s just that everything about this duel felt so chill (?)–lackadaisical even–and features fantasy court drama tropes that [again] have far greater romantic drive than political intrigue.
It is in essence a bunch of random “anything you can do I can do better” shenanigans that don’t really hold up to the promise of a do-or-die competitive Crown’s Game; especially because it was akin to reading about TLC’s home renovation/decor television shows.
I shit you not.
Holy shit, what the hell is with the world building?
It’s understood to me that there’s a rich history attached to The Crown’s Game. There’s even mention of food and that’s a winner for me. But it’s when we delve into the game/duel/competition itself that confusion arises. Perhaps I misread the infodumping scenes but there’s a lack of explanation and support for what this concept is based around.
Here’s the general gist of the duel: players take turns one upping each other in magical badass-ery until the “duel” or the Tsar (boss man of Russia) chooses a winner. By the same token, a competitor wins by afflicting death.
The main problem is that though there are explicit rules, the story seems to either break its own rules, dismisses them entirely, or doesn’t acknowledge aspects that would support the concept. It’s all so willy nilly. For example:
- Each party takes “turns” to make their move and is represented by a burning mark on their skin that sears when its theirs to make and gets hotter the longer they fail to do so. It is said to be “unbearable” pain, and though some turns take long to make, they’re dismissed as just a mere annoyance than anything.
- During an infodump, there’s also mention that their actionable “volleys” are “theirs and theirs alone” — and yet extraneous forces continue to influence otherwise — like wtf?
- The biggest question mark comes with how there’s no determinant as to when their turn ends. We know that it burns when its theirs but what holy spirit or God says “okay your turn is done” — like…who/what decides this? There’s not some binary 1/0 or yes/no thing you can whack the gavel at and the turn shifts just. like. that. Derp.
It’s a neat concept that, with refinement, could have been that much more compelling to read as so much was glossed over. Sigh.
The narration in The Crown’s Game is a hodge podge of several voices swapped in-and-out with a POV change every chapter. I do wish, however, that headings were provided to delineate changing perspectives because some tones do feel as though they could overlap with each other.
Speaking of perspectives, the grey areas I imagined would come with this high concept historical fantasy with magic and duels and politics was pretty lackluster. The major problem arises in the characters (protagonists and bystanders combined). Everyone just felt so inherently good that death was never (or rarely) a concern and that there was no sense of danger or urgency in a plot that promises certain death.
As a whole, the storytelling is balanced — the descriptions are vibrant, the learning curve is accessible, the action sequences are delivered with excitement, and the story with its Russian culture/lore is vividly imagined. The downside is that certain elements felt as though they existed for the sake of plot and once its useful life was over and done with, it was like “okay, thanks for all your help okay byeeeeee.”
So it’s safe to say that there are two near-octogenarian narrators that I enjoyed much more than the protagonists. To be fair, I think Vika and Nikolai are solid, well-developed characters, and there isn’t much I want to add about them. (They’re my ship.) Pasha is the outlier of the three main perspectives I wasn’t sold on. He’s a mix of self-absorbed entitlement balanced against his lack-of-care attitude full of tomfoolery. He’s kind of a douche.
In terms of conflict propelling antagonism, there’s no real need for a villain as the duel fills that role. However, it was nice to get tidbits of a much larger (and darker) plot line throughout the story that does introduce a new player pivotal to this villain role.
If you enjoy instalust and love squares, you’ll suffocate with the romance in this story. It was almost overbearing how much the story leaned on romance even in serious scenes. I’m sure it can elicit swoons but it also felt forced at times. The limited bantering was great though.
It’s the divergence in expectation versus reality that confused the hell out of me. It’s as if you offered me a pumpkin pie–only for it to be a chicken pot pie through and through.
I wanted to enjoy Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game not only because it’s hyped and highly regarded in the community but because it featured a competition (I LOVE competitions). And yet there’s just so many missed opportunities I couldn’t overlook. I’m certain this story will be much loved but the Grinch in me isn’t completely sold on it yet (and also because I’m obviously the black sheep again).