Series: The Crown's Game #1
Published by Balzer + Bray on May 17th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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.
Well…for a book about magic The Crown’s Game was decidedly unmagical.
On Goodreads I ask people to answer a challenge question when they send me a friend request, the question being: What are some of your biggest bookish pet peeves? The answers are usually pretty similar and include some of the following:
– Love triangles
– Characters who seem to lose all sense of reason or rational brain function when they meet another character they consider “hot”
– Lacklustre worldbuilding
– Boring plot
– Bad writing and over-the-top metaphors
Well my friends, I’m here to tell you that The Crown’s Game contains every single one of these things. It’s been a while since I’ve read such an unoriginal, lacklustre and just overall generic book. It’s alright for a book to have tropes, you probably can’t read YA if you’re not ready to handle some of them, but if a story is just made up of all of them, that’s where I draw the line. It made me cringe because it’s practically a “how-to” guide for bad YA and I genuinely cannot understand how an editor was not able to spot this.
I’ve been trying and failing to find something about this book that would be able to redeem it and at least give it something above one star but unfortunately I came up empty.
The premise of The Crown’s Game is pretty intriguing. In an Imperial Russia inspired fantasy world, two enchanters are born where only one is allowed to exist. So in order to decide who will become Imperial Enchanter, that is, the magician who will stand beside the tsar and help him rule his kingdom, two teens – Vika and Nikolai – must duel over several rounds until one of them dies or the tsar chooses a winner.
When I first heard this premise I knew I wanted to read this book right away as soon as it was released. The story wasn’t unfamiliar, after all, it’s pretty much The Night Circus, but I figured that in a YA book, set in a Russia-inspired fantasy world it could be amazing. Obviously, this is a classic case of good premise gone wrong.
First off, this book is boring. Really boring. How could a magical duel to the death not be exciting, you ask? What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, the two enchanters don’t even try. Like seriously, I have rarely seen such undetermined characters. They tell us through their boring inner monologues that they really want to win because reasons, but do they ever show us that? No. From the get-go, they feel a “connection” and the reader immediately knows there won’t be a real game but that instead it will be the story of two hormone-driven teens falling in love (instantaneously). Tension gets thrown out the window the moment the game begins.
You don’t believe me? Take a look at Vika’s thoughts, taken from the passage where Vika and Nikolai first meet.
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.
Barf. Can you get any more cliché?
The answer is yes! Enter: love square.
So we’ve got insta-love between Vika and Nikolai and we also have insta-love in regards to Pasha who seemingly falls in love with Vika the moment he first sees her. This quote was taken from a passage which happened after Pasha saw Vika for literally two seconds from like 10m away.
Pasha hooked a leather ottoman with his foot and dragged it closer, then settled deep into his armchair for a long afternoon of reading. But he did not admit it to himself, either aloud or even quietly in his own head, that he was interested in the girl for more than just her magic.
In addition, Pasha was such a flat and archetypical character and it’s pretty clear that the author much preferred Nikolai over him. He was supposed to add drama (which the story desperately needed) but the attempt backfired. Also, can I just say how much I hate when View Spoiler »friendships break apart because people fall in love with the same person? A person, I might add, they’ve both literally known for a few weeks?! « Hide Spoiler
Throw in a masquerade ball and a gown made of snow and there you have your stale YA fantasy recipe.
And how ironic it is that Vika would wear such a gown, because that’s exactly what she is: the most special of all special snowflakes. Since I cannot possibly describe Vika’s beauty, grace, perfection etc. myself, I’ll let Nikolai and Pasha do some of the talking.
She sparkled like the lanterns under the moonlight
“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.”
There were few girls he knew in Petersburg society who could traipse through the Savannah without complaining about the burs snagging at their skirts or the dry wind mussing up their hair. But those thoughts didn’t even seem to occur to Vika. She was a mythical creature among ordinary human kind.
I mean COME ON. The book is FULL of these types of things.
The worldbuilding (for which I was super excited) just left me kind of…meh. I’m not going to comment on the depiction of Russia because I really don’t know a whole lot about Russian culture and it’s also an alternate universe so judging the author for historical inaccuracies wouldn’t be entirely fair. What I can say though, is that despite the descriptions of food, this alternate Russia did nothing for me. In terms of magic system, The Crown’s Game was disappointing as well. There seemed to be no rules to the magic and the limits that did exist seemed random and convenient. The idea that using magic leaches your energy is not a bad one, just utterly unoriginal and unispired. When one of the central plot points of the story is a magical duel, I expect that an actual magic system is established, as to add cleverness or tension or… something.
Lastly, we have the writing style. Oh boy. I can’t remember the last time I cringed this badly while reading certain paragraphs. I think the author was trying to be poetic and romantic with her weird metaphors but they ended up sounding either incredibly pretentious or were straight out nonsensical.
Oh and that ending *rolls eyes*. I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen it coming from a mile away.
Clearly this book did not work for me and I cannot recommend it. If you feel like you can disregard all the tropes and clichés, feel free to give this a try. But if you’re searching for a fun and enjoyable YA fantasy, I would steer you elsewhere though.