Quick review for a progressive read. “The Crown’s Game” was a book that I’ve waited to read for well over half a year from my local library. Part of me thought it would be better to buy the book, especially since between the time I put this book on reserve and the time I read it, the second book had already released. I’m glad I waited because the timing was perfect between being able to read the first book and get the second book from my library without having to wait in a queue.
I’m of two minds upon finishing “The Crown’s Game” – for one I did enjoy this alternate, magical historical tale taking place in 19th century Russia. It wasn’t my favorite story of this type, but I can say the journey was well worth the wait, especially with how the tale ended up pulling me in for the longer haul.
The story pits together two enchanters – Nikolai and Vika, in a high stakes, very public game in order to become the tsar’s aid. However, things quickly become complicated as Nikolai and Vika realize not only a bond they share as enchanters (cue in the instalove machine song that I’d normally start humming at this point) but also the complicated relationships and dramatic betrayals that end up blowing up as the overarching narrative pushed to its conclusion. I liked the progressive political and emotional tension in this narrative, as well as the reveals of each of the players having stakes in this game. It’s not necessarily centered around Vika and Nikolai alone. Nikolai’s mom was a trip and I actually liked the way her character was framed as this menacing presence, but ultimately still bent on reuniting and working in the best interest for her son. Sometimes the best villains you can read about are the heroes of their own part of the narrative, even when their actions are…royally messed up. Pasha’s character had interesting moments because of his struggle to be accepted by his father, but never amounting to being as well regarded as Nikolai for skill or anything other than being the tzar’s heir. I really enjoyed seeing Nikolai and Pasha’s progressive friendship in this tale (it was far more interesting than the relationship between Nikolai and Vika, but I’ll get to that momentarily). So it definitely hurt to see the fractures in that relationship as events in this novel come to pass. Another thing I really enjoyed about this novel was the attention to setting and worldbuilding. It gives just enough detail to make you believe you’re in the time and place this takes place, plus the detail of the magic and some really brutal scenes that hit home with the conflict in just the right places.
That being said, I wasn’t all that enamored at the actual game or shipped romance in this novel. I know people are going to be thinking “But wasn’t that the whole point?” Ehhh, not so much. Despite how this novel is shipping itself as a high stakes game and romance, it really didn’t excel at those two aspects as I felt like Vika and Nikolai’s relationship felt forced for shipping, plus the love triangle came and went far too quickly for me to even get any sort of investment into it. The latter part of the book had some “Romeo and Juliet” type moments where I think it came too fast for me to really believe in it or feel for the characters themselves when some jarring events were supposed to pass. Where the narrative shined – for me – was in the non-romantic relationships, familial and friendship – and the steady revelations causing the overarching tension within the key players in this budding empire.
Nonetheless, the experience I had with this book makes me willing and ready to jump into this series.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.