In Evelyn Skye's The Crown's Game, two enchanters vie for the position of magical protector to the nineteenth-century Russian throne. The players of the game, Vika and Nikolai, both friends of the crown prince, fall in love with each other, each drawn by the other's magic and their unique experiences as enchanters. Yet only one of them can win the game, and only the winner can survive.
This story is told with bits of Russian history, landscapes, and landmarks woven into the primarily fictional characters' lives and their secret, magical world. The descriptions--down to those of people, clothing, and artifacts--are beautiful, and pulled me right into a fascinating place. It took a little while for the romantic interest between the two main characters to seem natural, at least for me, until about halfway through the book. I also had a difficult time believing Nikolai and Vika weren't more torn about trying to kill each other during the points in the game when they made direct attacks. The consequences didn't always seem quite real because of the that. Each enchanter acknowledged their interest in the other person and their feelings of guilt over trying to kill them, but they would too easily slip into playing the game. The action didn't always seem to match the urgency of the stakes in that way for me. Though I was curious, I don't know that I was necessarily emotionally invested at all times. But the game itself certainly kept me guessing till the end.
My favorite characters were Ludmila, the baker, and Pasha, the prince. I loved Ludmila's bright personality, her bakery, and the motherly relationship she took toward Vika. Pasha consistently acted true to his nature, oftentimes to hilarious effect, until grief and position began dictating his decisions. His friendship with Nikolai was the most heartbreaking and true. It seemed too easily disrupted to the extent that it was, and I wished Nikolai had told Pasha the truth about the game and Vika sooner. Nikolai also had a friendship with a servant, Renata, that I felt could have been more developed. He was a little too dismissive of her, and I didn't really believe their friendship, just that she liked him. The relationship did add more questions and tension to the story, and a little background to Nikolai, though.
There were also some creepy aspects that put me off just a little that centered on an evil, perhaps Rasputin-like character (though this would have been a little before his time). The change within this character, the kind of revenge she sought, and the number of people it affected seemed extreme, given her background. She turned so suddenly upon waking from her sleep. I suppose I didn't completely believe that particular element or feel it fit in with the story, though I can see how it moved the action forward in line with events in history, with heartbreaking results in the story. The main characters suffered the kind of extreme lows that people always tell writers they need to inflict on their characters. I was so unhappy to see the turn within certain people. Once the near-climax arrived, I kept saying out loud, "No, no, no. Why is he (or she) doing this?" Their actions became driven by grief and blame, and always led to regret, which at least redeemed the character, albeit too late. It was a good demonstration of how evil and bad choices can be born of someone once pure and fun--or even how bad choices can appear evil. Very heartbreaking. That combined with the creepy elements--and I mean seriously creepy (I don't usually read scary books, so maybe it just seemed worse to me)--I preferred to swallow this one slowly, rather than stay up later reading, for example. The middle of the book had a more romantic section that was a good piece to stay up late reading though...
I loved the Cinderella ties, and absolutely loved the masquerade ball. That's where the connection between Nikolai and Vika began to feel not only organic, but intense. Their connection was lovely, and it was at that point--about midway through the book--that I began to feel invested. They were beautifully tied by more than the game and more than their feelings for each other. And I liked how the game became about love, the need for other characters to force the game to continue, and the certain tragedy of their circumstances, instead of about winning.
At first I imagined the events of the game to be like an action battle, but I liked how, particularly the later events were gentle, peaceful, and even romantic. I like a good romantic book, but oftentimes when something is supposed to be romantic, it isn't because it feels forced. The romance built within the magic of this story, the world, and between the characters truly came across organically in the second half, and made me dream sweetly about the masquerade, the mazurka, and the enchanted, lantern-lit garden island. Look forward to those pieces when you pick this one up.
The Crown's Game: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26156203-the-crown-s-game
Great post! Ever since this book appeared on Erin's poll about favorite book covers (http://www.landsuncharted.com/2016/01/poll-favorite-fantasy-book-covers-for.html?m=0), I have been curious about it. I am glad you read it and reviewed it! It seems interesting, but I am afraid the focus on romance might be a bit too much for my taste. Great, in-depth review, though! I love it when reviews go beyond the generic and dive into what might make this book stand out from others.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Hannah! I was waiting for this one to come out, and I forgot it was in Erin’s list! I remember liking the cover.Delete
Thanks for this, Laura! I always appreciate hearing your take on books, and this one certainly sounds intriguing! Maybe I could skim to the middle section, I'm guessing I would like that part as much as you did :) Have you read The Night Circus? The elements of magicians playing a game to the death and falling in love in the process reminded me of that book (which was excellent, by the way!).ReplyDelete
Thanks so much, Laurie! Actually, I bought The Night Circus a while ago and completely forgot about it, oh my gosh. Thanks for the reminder!Delete
You should definitely read it! The writing is so beautiful and atmospheric, and it has some of the good points you liked about The Crown's Game with less evil and creepiness :)Delete
This has been on my list, so I am happy to read a review of it! Thanks!ReplyDelete