Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: The Crown's Game (Evelyn Skye)

The Crown's Game (The Crown's Game, #1)
Title: The Crown's Game
Series: The Crown's Game duology, Book 1
Author: Evelyn Skye
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins)
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Genre: Young Adult Alternate Fantasy
Told: Third Person Omniscient, Past Tense
Content Rating: Teen (some violence and minor sensuality)
Format Read: ARC (trade)
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Purchase OnAmazon | B&N | Book Depository

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.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

*          *          *

In a Sentence: An amazing alternate historical fantasy with a rich world, solid writing, vivid characters, awesome magic, and an engrossing story (despite an unfortunate love triangle).

Confession: I didn't expect to like this book. More often than not I dislike much-loved bestsellers with very few exceptions, and while Crown Game's magic, setting and concept sounded intriguing, the summary spoke too much of the romance - a negative trait for me. But while the romance did end up proving the weakness I'd expected, it did not play as large a part as I'd feared, leaving the rest of the book to completely dazzle me.

Contrary to the summary, there were three main characters. The two enchanters, who were very interesting and unconventional contrasts to each other, almost swapping gender roles as Vika was a strong, powerful, wild female to Nikolai's crafty, scholarly dandy male. But then there was also Pasha: heir to the throne and third in their unfortunate love triangle, he was an adventurous and inquisitive boy who would rather be free but is forced to do his duty for his country. Together they, along with the rest of the cast, made an engaging group to follow as the omniscient point of view focused not only on the main characters but over half a dozen others. Despite so many points of view though, for the most part I had little difficulty keeping everyone straight - the characters were all very unique and different from each other, including their names, so it was pretty easy to tell them apart despite the chapters being unmarked and occasionally following more than one person.

The setting was just the right balance of foreign and familiar woven through with secret enchantments. The Russian culture and history were never heavy or confusing, with just enough to be fascinating and exotic. The description was perfectly done, not too much and not too little; very vivid and easy to picture. The pacing was slower in the beginning so the reader could enjoy discovering the world and characters, became a bit choppy in the middle to move the game along, then slowed again at the end to savor the struggle as new twists came to light and the game concluded. The end itself was a bit abrupt for me, but simply because I wanted more and there wasn't any.

From the description I expected an actual fight-to-the-death duel, but it turned out to be more of a tournament, each taking turns to one-up the other in magical feats (although they did occasionally try to eliminate the other while they were at it). Despite less violence it made for a very engaging cat-and-cat interaction, especially as the story started offering just the magical feats and little of the preparation, so the reader became more spectator than confidante. This was occasionally a little disappointing but ultimately rather dazzling as the surprise and imagination of the magic blew me away. As the characters grew closer and the end of the game nearer things became more tense as loyalties severed and evolved, and with the revelation of a few twists I did not see coming the result was an exciting and uncertain one. Needless to say upon turning the last page and discovering no more I wished I'd had the sequel on hand for immediate consumption.

The romance was the book's only real weakness for me. The main characters' relationships formed a relatively complicated diagram involving several contradicting arrows and a definite love triangle (or possibly even love square). It wasn't hard to follow though, and while my very first actual "ship" didn't quite sail (*sigh*) I'm not averse to how things concluded and will be interested to see how it all ends up in the final book.

Conclusion: A solidly enjoyable, enchanting and engrossing read with vivid characters, dazzling magic, and a fantastic worldI did have some small issues with the love triangle and omniscient point of view, but by the end I was leaning more towards 5 than 4 Scribbles, especially after the climatic twists I did not see coming. Can't wait to lay eyes on the sequel!

For Fans Of: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Scribble Rating
4.5 of 5 Scribbles

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