I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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.
Going into this, I based it on the high GoodReads rating and the genre. Didn’t read the description at all, so I pretty much went into it blind. I liked it and didn’t like some parts. Imperial Russia with two enchanters fighting to the death? This is The Crown’s Game. Except there wasn’t a whole lot of participating from the royal family at all.
The first thing that always gets me is how slow a story will start. I need something to pull me in. And I try to be patient so I wasn’t surprised really when the pacing was slow and dragging. I pushed through because I’m stubborn and finally a story emerged. I just had to read to the halfway mark before anything happened. Then there was the whole premise of the game. To be the magical enchanter for the Tsar of Imperial Russia. I guess being an enchanter brings prestige because I didn’t understand why it was so important to be the one and only. Then there was the instant love that came from the moment these two characters saw each other. Quite literally they see each other and the characters think it’s love but I think otherwise, lust and attraction which is not the same thing as love. That bugged me a lot only because these two hardly knew a thing about each other. They have random conversations and then one is declaring their love for the other. I was puzzled. Not only was there instant love, there was also unrequited love. I didn’t think there would be a love square but there was. If you mash up Cinderella, The Night Circus and throw in magical powers in the beautiful location of Russia, this is what you get. And then the biggest thing that I disliked was how Vika would let herself be controlled by Nikolai. He’s controlling her body and how she dances, and she’s not horrified at all, she ends up “melting” with desire.
Vika: “No. I still don’t trust you.”
Nikolai: “No matter. I’m not giving you a choice.”
A part of Vika—the non-rational part of her—melted.
Then there are the lovely things about the book. The exquisite descriptions of how magic is used to enchant the city. I didn’t understand the rules right away and the Tsar had no qualms about the game at all. He was busy being a king and trying to protect his people from the Ottoman Empire. I love the enchantments and how they were described so vividly and beautifully. There was the island with benches of Russian cities and if one would sit on it, they would be transported to that city in their mind. That was one part that stood out for me. The enchanted costume boxes or the dolls being brought to life? Not so much. I also didn’t get how the citizens would wave it off as “technology” when it could be clearly magic. I also loved how there was a little twist in the end and that it ends in such a horrific way. Granted, I finished the book because I wanted to see who would win.
Overall, it’s a wonderful debut, but the instant love, controlling male character and slow pacing dropped my rating. Evelyn Skye builds a wonderful historical debut with magic and Russian culture. But unfortunately I was looking for more than just romance, and more adventure and action.