Published by HarperCollins on May 17th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
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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.
She was the sun, and he was a mere rock, drawn in by her gravity. He needed to be closer, to feel her magic, to touch . . . her.
Anyone for another boring, fluffy fantasy full of
magic and murder instalove, love triangles and ballgowns?
I’m just going to get the ultimate, overarching problem out of the way first – this book is so so boring. To be honest, I didn’t expect that. The blurb alludes to the love triangle and romantic elements so I was prepared for googly eyes and some fast-paced thrills, but The Crown’s Game simply lacks any tension.
In this world – a fantasy version of Tsarist Russia – there can be only one Imperial Enchanter, one person with magical skill to stand by the Tsar’s side. Usually, though, it’s pretty simple because only one candidate exists. When more than one exists – in this case, Vika and Nikolai – they must duel to the death over several rounds in The Game. Only one can come out alive.
Let me tell you why this potentially awesome premise bored me to tears.
Well, firstly, they don’t even fucking try! From the very moment that they see one another, a crush develops, and they suddenly forget all of their training and every ambition they’ve ever had. That’s the problem with this book. There’s no tension. There’s no questions being asked. Will they? Won’t they? Dammit, they already have! Before The Game even begins!
This is a thought Nikolai has after seeing Vika for – no exaggeration – less than one minute:
But he did not admit to himself, either aloud or even quietly in his own head, that he was interested in the girl for more than just her magic.
This is how Vika reacts the moment they meet:
The instant he touched her, his shadow flickered, and his real self flashed through. Vika sucked in a breath.
Oh, mercy, he was handsome, all ebony hair and ink-black eyes and a face so precisely chiseled, Vika could almost picture the blade that had created him. And the sparks that danced through his magic! Goose bumps rose where his hand held her, even though there was a glove and a sleeve between them. Everything inside Vika quivered.
The love triangle’s third member (though there are arguably multiple love triangles in this book) is Pasha, the heir to the royal throne. Let me tell you something about love triangles – I don’t always mind them. No, really. If there are two interesting options involved and realistic reasons why the other person would fall for them both, I can get on board with that angst. But here, it is an unnecessary, forced obstacle that should never have been added.
Pasha is not a realistic love interest. There can be no doubt that the main ship here is Vika and Nikolai; the love triangle feels thrown in to create some additional drama. To be honest, this book sorely needed some drama and tension, but Pasha could not create it. He did nothing. The central relationship never feels threatened by him. Also, he adds another dose of instalove:
“You cannot love her. You hardly know her.”
“If there were ever a girl a man could fall in love with without knowing, it would be Vika.”
Because everything is so instant, so unexplained, it’s hard to take anything seriously. How awful it would be to be forced into a fight to the death with the person you love… and yet, I don’t buy Nikolai’s obsession with Vika’s red curls as “love”. Their actions never made any sense. Their feelings seemed hardly more than a crush, so it infuriated me and made me roll my eyes when they were flirting and dancing instead of trying to kill one another.
The Game’s trials and dueling are dampened by this mutual crush. It never feels like a fight to the death. It feels like tame love taps between two lovestruck teenagers. Of course, in the beginning, they don’t know how the other one feels, so it would be natural to assume that the other one really is trying to kill them… and, I don’t know about you, but if I thought a cute boy was trying to kill me, I’d rip his cute face off. Just sayin’.
One more thing. I am not Russian. I know very little about Russian language and culture. Though if I was going to write a Russia-inspired fantasy, I would do some research beyond reading Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. Because it now seems to be the thing in YA fantasy novels for the characters to appear to get drunk on kvass. Which is a soft drink, sometimes with a tiny amount of alcohol (so tiny, it is given to children).
Granted – before someone points it out – the book never explicitly states that the kvass gets them drunk. But let’s imagine this scenario: A father suddenly discovers that is daughter could be on the brink of death. He freaks out and claims desperately “I need that bottle of Pepsi”. He pours himself a glass, throws back his head, and downs it in one. It doesn’t quite hit the spot, so he does more shots of Pepsi until the bottle is empty. Maybe it’s just me, but something tells me someone is confused about the nature of Pepsi…
Anyway, The Crown’s Game is a very light, fluffy fantasy, lacking in tension. There seems to be very little to read the sequel for. The ending gives away the obvious direction of the next book and the lack of remaining conflict in their relationship suggests a predictable outcome View Spoiler »Nikolai comes back, they get to be together « Hide Spoiler.