[Review] The Crowns Game — Evelyn Skye

Book Title:  The Crown's Game (The Crown's Game #01)
Author:      Evelyn Skye
Number of pages:  399


the-crowns-game-evelyn-skye-book-coverVika 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.

(re: Goodreads @ The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye)

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


Initial 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).


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33 thoughts on “[Review] The Crowns Game — Evelyn Skye”

  1. Aww, I’m so sorry you ended up not liking this one that much! I’ve been kind of excited for it because the blurb sounds so interesting, but I feel like the points in your tl;dr review would bother me as well, particularly the holes in the magic system and the focus on romance. D:

    It’s also a shame that the duels were lacking in tension. I LOVE competitions too as a general rule because they just tend to be fun, but this sounds very… loopholey. Like the author just bends the rules she set out so she could make the plot do what she wanted.


    1. I feel like most readers just glossed over the lacking magical infrastructure; which is why I’m sort of leaning towards describing this book as “fantasy-lite” than anything hardcore SF-F.

      For comparisons sake, even one of the duels in AGOS holds more tension and “greyness” than anything that happens in TCG. It’s all so fluffy.

      BUT. You should read it anyways and I’m excited to hear what you think!


  2. You’re definitely the black sheep again.
    I don’t think I’ll ever read this book, but I do like the premise of it because who doesn’t love competitions? I sure as hell do!

    My Goodreads feed is full of love for this book despite how new it is, so I couldn’t help but notice it. Not happy about the love squares and confusing world building, though.


    1. The premise is the most deceiving thing about this book to the extent that I fear that the individual who wrote the blurb didn’t fully read the book before writing it.

      There was definitely a lot of love for TCG when ARCs were still out but I’ve seen a fair bit of negativity when it was published. Soooo.


  3. THANK YOU. This review is awesome. And exactly what I was thinking as I was reading this book. It was like I picked up a book and read the synopsis on the dust jacket, only to learn that the cover had been switched and it was a different book inside! What the heck?!?

    And it totally felt like a TLC show! That comment had me cracking up…


    1. Right? I’m torn because part of me thinks that the individual who wrote the blurb didn’t read the book but the blurb doesn’t explicitly describe that they’re going to be brawling it out in some tiny arena or anything. But I guess I’m conditioned to think that way due to all the other books that take on this competitive premise. Ahhhh.


  4. I’ve been kind of eyeing this because it’s been pretty hyped, but I haven’t really seen reviews of it. Right now it’s looking as if I should see if the library gets it, instead of buying it.


    1. Yeah TCG was so hyped prior to release (glowing reviews left and right!). I felt quite awkward posting this review because black sheep ain’t fun. But at least when the book was published, there were other reviews that came out with similar experiences to mine.

      But I’d still recommend reading this book, and a library might be your best bet if you’re unsure (although the book design is quite nice IIRC from looking at it at the store).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m suffering through The Glittering Court right now, so I’m getting even more reluctant to pick up something else I know I’ll probably think is mediocre. :p


        1. Oh no! Sorry to hear Glittering Court isn’t working for you. I decided a while back that I probably wasn’t ever going to get to Mead’s books — especially after the apparent shit show in Soundless (I guilty pleasure read all the negative reviews for this one hahaha).


  5. I was kind of excited for this book, but then I read “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.” No thanks.


      1. The collection of books in the libraries in my city (the national library even) is pathetic so I don’t think they’ll have it anytime soon.
        I might still read it because I had invested too much emotion and energy getting hyped over this book. LOL.


  6. Omg your review made me laugh so hard. I’m not sure if its just the way I picture you saying it all but it was perfect. The book is pretty all over the place and I wasn’t really happy that the romance became the focal point when given a vast plot to do whatever you want with.


    1. Haha, I do read my review out loud as I write it so the tone and wording comes off as conversational as possible — so I’m glad it sounded like I was speaking to you even if you were reading it!

      I learned recently that this book is a planned duology so now I kind of understand the limited scope in plotting because after the end…there’s only two threads that really matter — since the “enemy” from other nations seems rather glossed over….



  7. Okay, wait. The synopsis immediately threw up a red flag for me. There are only two enchanters in Russia, the Tsar desperately needs a powerful enchanter to help him through the impending war, so the Tsar creates an elaborate dick-measuring competition between the two enchanters that will leave one of them dead, INSTEAD OF JUST PUTTING BOTH ENCHANTERS TO WORK?

    Am I misunderstanding the premise? Are there more enchanters brought in from outside of Russia, so it’s not just Vika and Nikolai competing? The review never explicitly mentions other competitors, so I’m left imagining the worst: that the Tsar’s willing to kill half of his available enchanter resources for absolutely no reason.

    Or is there a compelling reason for him to set up the competition, and I’m getting exasperated over here for no reason? Please, god, let it be this option.


    1. Okay Liam, I need you to read this book if you can because I need to know if I’m just crazy for thinking all of these above thoughts. (But if you end up hating it theeeeeen…I’ll owe you one?)

      Basically, without giving too much deets away, the logic is that the magical “source” of Russia can only have one Enchanter siphoning the magic to it’s fullest potential — meaning, two enchanters can only be at “50%” while one enchanter can utilise the full range of the powers. If that makes sense (which is doesn’t really when you read it because reasons).

      Let me know if you intend to do so so I can gratuitously follow your Goodreads or whatever.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Let me reassure you that you’re not crazy. Since reading your review, I’ve come across a few others (from reviewers I trust to be critical) saying the same things.

        That said, I miiiight be convinced to give the book a read, but it’ll be no sooner than October or November. My recovery from ToG will require concentrated doses of excellent books for at least three months.

        Yeah, I’m still unconvinced that the premise is logically sound. You’re definitely making me curious about just how much of a clusterfuck it is, though. Good lord, it’s probably going on my TBR after all. I’ll give you a heads-up when I start reading it.


  8. First of all: Aw, Joey, disappointed again. 😦 it’s so adorably sad that this KEEPS happening.
    Ugh, this review was just so entertaining. Your sharp wit and blows mixed with your kindness was beautiful. This was just. Beautiful. I won’t be reading this.
    You’re amazing, I love your voice especially when you’re being snarky. It’s just so fun. It’s always like I can hear you as if there is a…what do they call it? A narration—OH, A VOICEOVER—of you as you’re typing your reviews, with your ramen at your side (I know you like to eat and you mentioned noodles once, is this racist? Let me know, I don’t think it is, though) in your blogger picture business suit, I don’t know why I saw that first, rather than something more relaxing after a long time spent reading something that failed you YET AGAIN. I’m sorry. So sorry. Ness never fails!


    1. I’ll gladly take the tradeoff of one AMAZING book to 5 terrible books. Have I reached the quota yet? No? Okay 😦

      I think TCG has its merits and it’s definitely a book that would work for fantasy-lite readers — because so much is just glossed over — but there’s so much that’s just…missing, that didn’t make sense to me for a planned duology (meaning A LOT of shit has to happen in the second book via worldbuilding).

      I did think about creating an audio recording for this specific review and reading this review out. Because vocalizing my profanity is so much more fun! But alas, I got too lazy. So maybe one day!

      I don’t really know what to say to that ramen comment. I do like noodles–actually, I like most foods. But I definitely cannot recall having mentioned this fact haha.

      And yes, Ness will never fail me. He’s bae.


      1. Thank God.
        Oh wait, you have like bookshelves/drawers worth of books, right? Do you read other reviews before you read books? Maybe that could help you save time?


        1. Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly?) I don’t read reviews prior to going into a book I will/may read. The ones that I’ve decided I won’t read– BRING ALL THE SPOILERS.

          As much as I’ve been drawn to bad books, I actually live by the blogging sentiment that it’s good to read popular books (even if they’re something I might not enjoy) to gain a well rounded scope and opinion on the community and its interests. It might seem counter intuitive since I seem to dislike everything but I do still recommend The Crown’s Game or Red Queen etc. to other people if I know they’d enjoy it.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Well shit . . . atleast we can be black sheep together right? I DNF’d TWATD and felt the same way. Like was I reading the same book as everyone else? Apparently not. Hyped books are always a hit or miss for me, I wasn’t going to read this at first, BUT I’ve been seeing so many negative reviews for it, (I love neg reviews BTW lol) that I just said screw it, and decided that I’ll dive in and see what I come up with. I like this grinch in you, I don’t want to be the only meanie in this community lol


  10. “well…shit” lol honestly

    I feel like this was a would-be version of the hunger games & I completely forgot about The Other Girl. Welp. This was totally too much of a love square, but Nikolai and Vika’s relationship ate up most of the book. Yesss, it DID feel like one of those TLC home decor shows omg


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