Release date: May 17, 2016
Vika Andreyev 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—and 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.
When it comes to star-crossed romances, this book would be my recommendation – Vika and Nikolai are like the Peeta and Katniss advertised to the Capitol. They are the opponents of a millennium-old tradition of choosing an Imperial Enchanter – a game of skill to death. The way the magic in this book is constructed is very crucial to the plot – the Enchanters share a well of magic, which makes for competition in the source itslef. Then adding to the conflict is the fact that the Game is so designed that one way or another, the loser will die. So, although there are sparks flying between Vika and Nikolai, they can’t forget that there is no hope for them, because (a) one of them is going to die, and (b) they can’t entirely trust the other’s intentions. There is a meeting of hearts, in being the only two who can understand each other. Their attraction is borne more out of adoration for the other’s skill – Nikolai is stunned how she can control the elements, and Vika is fascinated by the intricacy of his magic. They are both opposites in temperament, in magic, and in how they were raised, but they both share a love for magic, but don’t want to be a part of the Game.
As for the secondary characters, while not all of them are likeable, they are well-written. There is Pasha, who is the Crown Prince and Nikolai’s bestie, who also falls for Vika. The love triangle (or quadrangle, if you include Renata) also contributes to the finale of the plot, but does not cause angst. Renata is kind, and intuitive, but overall I didn’t think she contributed much to the plot. There is an air of tragedy in the book, right from the romance to the state of the country, to the future of the rule. Yuliana is surprisingly not much on scene, considering she was the main initiator of the plot. The whole turns of the Game were really interesting, and the marvels they create are astonishing. The other magic, the one that is sourced through living things also caught my interest and I feel there was much to be explored there. There is probably a sequel, though, which, after that ending, has me really intrigued as to what will be the future.
Received a free galley from Balzer + Bray, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.