Bookshelf Blurb: Two magicians are vying for the title of Imperial Enchanter despite their admiration for each other and the romantic affection that slowly grows between them. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner of The Crown’s Game and they must fight to the death… or figure out a way to best the game.
America’s Review: From the first page, the reader learns that even before Tsardom there was a need for a magician of indisputable power–one who will yield unimaginable magic within themselves–and the game would alleviate any question as to who this person was. History dictates the Tsar of Russia must have an Imperial Magician to help maintain order in the kingdom by using the elements of wind, fire and nature. There can only be one Imperial Magician to yield the power of the earth and in the event two are born of the same year, The Crown’s Game was invented to ensure the mightiest would prevail. In 1825, such a tragedy occurs: two magicians are born and they must fight to the death in The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye.
I was drawn into The Crown’s Game by the unique history given in the prelude of a magician so powerful they are to help the Tsar of Russia–and the date–1825. As the first chapter unfolds, the stage is set in a wooded area on a small Russian island where young Vika is being tested by her father, and mentor. To save herself from destruction, her father has created this test to measure her skills as a magician. Instantly, I was drawn to the wit, self-preservation and strength found in our protagonist. She exudes a toughness found in few; not a nasty mean girls attitude, but instead one that offers humility and beauty.
After meeting Vika, the reader is given a new perspective in the next chapter through, Nikolai, a young man who was orphaned and has been serving as an apprentice to a mean, vindictive woman, Galina. Not only is Galina a self-serving woman who realizes that the talent Nikolai possesses will one day be tested, but she also knows it will be matched against her brother’s daughter/mentee in the Crown’s Game. She is Vika’s aunt.
Galina took Nikolai in to her household, but taught him to be reliant on no one and to take care of himself using only his magic. To fend for himself Nikolai finds himself on the street gambling with other young ruffians when he first encounters his best friend, Pasha, who he helps not get taken advantage of on the streets as Nikolai soon discovers Pasha’s truth–he is the heir to the Tsar.
Pasha dreams beyond the walls of his father’s kingdom and often escapes his guards to wander amongst the pheasants. He invites Nikolai along on his adventures and through the years these two become the best of friends–until the fateful day when they wander into the woods of a small island not far from the capital of St. Petersburg where they discover a girl with wild red hair surrounded by fire, creating a shield of ice to protect herself from injury. Nikolai has never confided in his friend his own abilities, but knows he has just discovered his opponent in the game for which he has been training his entire life. He also knows he is besought with the beauty and magnificence of the one person in the world who can relate to the magic that flows in his veins.
These fateful moments allow the two boys to discover this beautiful, courageous young magician. It is this moment which causes Pasha to go home and learn about the Crown’s Game all while trying to discover the identity to the young woman who has captured his heart. As Pasha sits reading about the game, the kingdom is under assault with gossip of wars and traders. Pasha’s lack of leadership prompts Pasha’s sister, Yuliana, to insist their father, the Tsar, must commence The Crown’s Game as Pasha is not a strong enough ruler without an Imperial Magician by his side.
The Crown’s Game begins and the two must battle to the death for there can only be one Imperial Magician as governed by the rules of the game. The Tsar has placed a unique twist to the game; they must complete magical feats for Pasha’s upcoming birthday in which he will become the new Tsar. As Nikolai and Vika make their moves, it is clear they must find a way to change the rules or destroy the other magician who has won their love.
In the Classroom: In the AP English classroom, students are reading, studying, reviewing and analyzing the great literary classics. In their junior and senior years, students could read War and Peace, Crime and Punishment or Anna Karenina. These are ‘heavy’ reads offering a plethora of literary traits, but also allow you to create a Russia Themed Unit. Russian History–a complicated past of Autocratic views, the Rise of Moscow, Ivan the Terrible, Romanov Dynasty, Alexander the Great, the Cold War, to modern era problems.
The Crown’s Game offers researched information about the Tsar, his kingdom and the arising problems of the 19th Century. In her Author’s Notes, Evelyn Skye, has told her readers this is historical fantasy, but also states she has done her research for times, places and events in her story. As an English teacher I have read all of the AP reads mentioned above and the fantasy offered in The Crown’s Game allows the reader to grasp more of the context of the time and place than the words offered by Tolstoy. I am comparing apples to oranges here, but if you can get both books into the hands of your readers they will enjoy the adventure found in both while walking away with a more in-depth picture of Russia. All while assigning your student a research paper based on one of the books, the history or the people. This assignment may inspire them as it did Evelyn Skye!
The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (Balzar + Bray | 9780062422583 | May 17, 2016)