First Lines: The smell of sugar and yeast welcomed Vika even before she stepped into the pumpkin-shaped shop on the main street of their little town.
I got this as an ARC a while ago, and it kind of got relegated to the back of my Kindle on accident…until a historical fantasy finally sounded good. So here I was, curling up with my Kindle and reading about Imperial Russia.
Vika and Nikolai can do things that no one else can. In fact, they are the only two enchanters in all of Russia. With the Ottoman Empire preparing to strike, the Tsar needs all the resources he can get, so he started the Crown’s Game. This magical duel will test the skills of Vika and Nikolai. The winner becomes Imperial Enchanter and advisor to the Tsar. The loser dies. Vika, who grew up training with elemental magic, is ready to show the Tsar what she can do. Nikolai, an orphan with an affinity for mechanical magic, knows this could be his chance to rise above his station. But can Nikolai find it in his heart to sentence his brilliant and gorgeous competitor to death? And when Nikolai’s best friend, Pasha, who also happens to be the heir to the throne, also starts to fall for Vika, the game becomes even more dangerous. Who will win?
Alright y’all. I tried really hard to like this book. But it didn’t work for me. Get ready for some ranting.
I loved the setting, though. Imperial Russia is fascinating. Love the Romanovs and all that jazz.
But other than that, this book was hard to like. And that started with the characters. I found them to be very simple characters, very one-dimensional. We really didn’t get to know them too well because it was all about planning for the games and trying to stamp out the competition. And when we did get to see them being normal, it just didn’t feel sincere to me. I can’t really explain it, but they lacked emotional depth.
Which leads me into this love triangle the story attempts. I don’t even think it actually qualifies as one, honestly, because it was just so pointless. There were a few spontaneous “I love you’s” and that was about the total emotional depth to it. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes because there was no feeling to it at all. It completely felt like a plot device and nothing else.
And speaking of plot devices, let’s talk about the crux of this plot: the Crown’s Game. What a load of crap. So there’s the whole “there can be only one” thing, which actually seems really stupid even if there is a reason for it. (Another reviewer on Goodreads and I were complaining about this before we even finished the book.) But ok, let’s say I roll with that. The point of the game is to find an advisor as the coming war approaches, yes? Alright, sounds legit. An enchanter would probably whip your enemies easily on the battlefield. So then why was the theme of the game to impress the prince by beautifying the city for his birthday? For the love of God, we’re looking for advisors, not entertainers. Couldn’t we have done some actual dueling or something rather than “Hey, look tricks I can do with water! Look at the toys I can conjure!” …It was very trying for my patience.
And basically every subplot got on my nerves. I already mentioned the love triangle, but there’s also this bit with mentors and parents (that I don’t really feel like spoiling), but suffice it to say that it wasn’t very impressive either. Like, some really bizarre stuff happens and everyone just rolls with it like it’s normal? What the flip?
Ok. Rant over. This book did not work for me, but it has a rating on Goodreads of something like 3.84 (at time of posting, at least), so it must be working for some people.