Published on May 17, 2016 by Balzer + Bray
Genres: Fantasy, 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.
Two teens. Only one can be the Imperial Enchanter. Let the games begin.
I was, perhaps, too excited for this book. After all the raving on Twitter I thought I absolutely had to read it. So I did. And while it was good, it wasn’t great. The premise is that in this alternate Russia, there can only be one person with magic — the Imperial Enchanter. Problem is, there are currently two people and that doesn’t work, so they must compete in the Crown’s Game where the penalty for losing is death.
Cool. Magical competition to the death. I’m a fan so far.
What conflict existed because of the Game quickly disappeared when the enchanters, Vika and Nikolai, officially meet and suddenly it’s insta-love for Vika (a shame, because she had been my favorite of the two up until that point). So for the entire book, instead of trying to kill each other — because I refuse to even count their weak attempts — the two decide to make the city pretty. Yes, pretty. Who can make the better tourist attraction?
These two have all the power of Russia combined and all they did was paint some buildings and build an island. Okay, yes, impressive, but if I was in a life or death situation that is so not what I would do to one-up the other. Plus, I never really understood the magic. Sometimes a foreign word would be used and that seemed to be what controlled it, but other times willpower drove everything. I wanted a solid magic system that I understood, not that changed depending on the scene.
I enjoyed the writing style so I overlooked these setbacks and kept reading because, at some point, there has to be a winner and a loser. But wait, there’s more! There’s not enough tension in the plot because they’re throwing the equivalent of cotton balls at each other so why not add in more with a love triangle.
One of my (biggest) pet peeves with young adult fiction is the existence of the love triangle. Vika instantly falls for Nikolai, hindering her actions during the Game. Nikolai has another girl but it becomes quickly clear that she’s not going to be enough. And Nikolai’s royal friend sees Vika and is head-over-heels. None of it was necessary. The plot could’ve held its own if the romance hadn’t existed! I wanted to cheer Vika on the whole time but every time she started redeeming herself Nikolai showed up and the heart-eyes appeared. Vika = mush.
I did see a lot of potential in The Crown’s Game hidden beneath the cliches and low points. The writing style kept me reading through the night and after the ending, and I can see a lot of ways the sequel could be an improvement. And the setting of an alternate Russia was described both beautifully and with intricate detail. The plot moves quickly through all of the action (because that’s primarily what this book works on) and by the end I felt like I did enjoy the book to a degree.
I’m hopeful that the sequel handles the romance better as it took over the story too often and too soon, but this is an average start to what I hope is a great fantasy series.