The Crown’s Game is an old one, older than the tsardom itself. It began long ago, in the age of Rurik, Prince of Novgorod, when Russia was still a cluster of tribes, wild and lawless and young. As the country matured over the centuries, so, too, did the game. But always, always it retained its untamed fierceness.
For the winner of the game, there would be unimaginable power.
For the defeated, desolate oblivion.
The Crown’s Game was not one to lose.
Thus begins The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, a fast-paced adventure of intertwining tales set in a reimagined imperialist Russia. The story unfolds through the alternating perspectives of Vika and Nikolai, the two enchanters competing in the Game, as well as through the eyes of several minor characters. These characters and their voices are what this novel does best. The unique personalities of each character reveal themselves immediately, yet still our knowledge of these characters expands as their backstories and motivations are further explored the deeper into the novel you go. Powerful and elemental, Vika captures your heart as the flames she can control. She is wild and fierce, her passion can unload in a torrent, yet she cradled within her power is a tender heart. As much as Vika makes your feelings lilt, Nikolai can cause your heart falter. Dark and driven, he is a product of his upbringing—raised without affection to accomplish one task: to win the game. His trainer, a forbidding and hard-hearted woman, instilled in him resourcefulness and cunning, though not as much savagery as she would have hoped.
Compounding the challenges each enchanter faces is the presence of Pasha, heir to the throne. Childhood friend to Nikolai, yet falling for the striking Vika, he will be pulled taut between them—though he doesn’t yet know both are participants of the Game, nor of its necessarily bloody conclusion. Other tensions of competing ties and familial bonds course through the novel, woven in nicely (and at times surprisingly) to build upon and complicate the conflict between these two protagonists.
The best aspect of the two main characters is how they are complementary foils. They are stark in contrasts, yet, as the only enchanters in the land, they both fit the other in ways no one else can. Their kinship can be read in their every “move” (as the acts of magic in the Crown’s Game are called), even in the ones that threaten the other’s life.
Overall, it was a great, satisfying read. The writing is fast paced and lovely, including such gems as (describing Nikolai), “He was a poisonous autumn crocus: deadly beautiful with no antidote.” Moreover, the descriptions steep you in the world of imperialist Russia’s Saint Petersburg, new territory for YA. The magic was well imagined, both in how it functioned in the world building and in how it served to develop the personalities of the two enchanters.
Overall, it is an experience that will draw you in and move you to turn the page. Definitely, the next time you’re browsing the shelves of your friendly local bookstore, you should pick this one up!