Rating: 1 star out of 5
I’d been contemplating reading Circle of Shadows, the newest Evelyn Skye novel, but I wanted to test the waters by reading another of her books first. I found The Crown’s Game on sale in the NOOK store for $1.99, so I snapped it up. In a way, I’m glad I did, because reading The Crown’s Game ultimately prevented me from wasting considerably more money on Circle of Shadows.
I could use the phrase “dumpster fire” to describe this book, but that’s really not fitting: Dumpster fires at least entail vaguely interesting events. The Crown’s Game is easily one of the dullest books I’ve ever read – even duller than any novel in the Twilight series. It’s no compliment to say that Stephanie Meyer did a better job world-building. Evelyn Skye exerted such negligible effort on world-building that her tale barely squeaks into the historical fantasy genre, giving more of the feel of historical fanfiction with magic tossed in for shits and giggles. The magic originates from some spring or fountain or some bullshit that apparently pays attention to arbitrary geopolitical boundaries and nationality. And excluding faith healers and a couple of magical creatures, the latter of whom are only mentioned in passing, there are only four known characters in Russia with the magic, and two of them monopolize most of it. Since both competitors possess gargantuan supplies of the magic, the result is a pair of stupidly overly-powerful heroes.
Skye is just as bad at inventing plots as she is at world-building. Expect no real action or intrigue from Crown’s Game. The game itself is nothing more than an unstructured magical pissing contest, and Skye fails to leave enough to the imagination to keep readers hooked. There’s no nefarious plot running beneath the surface, there’s no tension or suspense; it’s just a fight for who gets to be the tsar’s chief suck-up and who gets to die, and the two competitors falling in love. Sigh.
The characters are breathtakingly boring. If you played the Wii Fit obstacle course game, you probably remember what a pain in the ass it was to avoid those logs, lest your Mii be comically flattened. Clearly the Crown’s Game’s characters played this game and lost spectacularly, because damn, are they dimensionally challenged. Though it’s not Vika’s fault that Pasha worshipfully describes her in a manner that is utterly vomit-inducing, it is Vika’s fault for failing to demonstrate that she is anything more than an insipid, gorgeous magical girl anime reject. She has pretty red hair with a black streak in it and can generate an entire island with her mind. She misses her dad. She’s pretty. She’s powerful. Did I mention she’s pretty? The way Vika blathers on about how attractive Nikolai is implies that she’s never seen a boy before (even though that’s probably not true). Spare me the agony.
Scarcely surpassing the sentience of a doorknob, Nikolai might as well have been a giant Russian Ken doll. His thoughts mostly consist of dreamily imagining banging Vika, hawing over not wanting to kill her, and attempting to concoct a contest-winning plan. When a woman in a semi-zombified state shows up out of the blue – alleging to be his mother, no less – Nikolai is relatively unperturbed. His strongest reaction is his revulsion over how dreadful Aizhana smells. Come on. Even if you live in a world steeped in magic, if a shambling, malodorous corpse lady appears and claims to be your dead mommy, you should shit yourself, at least a little bit. If all you can do is complain about is the foul stench, you desperately need help. When he walks into the Enchanted Hollow, a goddam cave, his thought is, “So this is why it’s called the Enchanted Hollow.” You’re a little slow on the uptake, pal. Reading this particular line evokes thoughts of that iCarly scene where Kurt, the cute but dumb (fired) intern, rides the elevator and then breathes in awe, “This is an elevator.” And really, that captures Nikolai’s essence – the hot but moronic guy who should be fired before he ruins the world. I half-expected him to pop into a scene with a plastic bag of lemonade.
Pasha isn’t much better. Like Nikolai, he too obsesses over Vika to a degree that seriously annoyed me, as a reader stuck in his head. (What I can say is that Pasha, as nauseatingly pesky as his crush-related thoughts are, isn’t a complete creep. For instance, he refrains from kissing Vika while she is asleep because he does not want to disrespect/violate her.) Unlike Nikolai, however, he exhibits some intellectual curiosity and later undergoes a considerable personality change; unfortunately, this shift is such an about-face that its effect comes off less as character development and more as a rancorous temper tantrum.
There’s little to say for the remaining characters. Renata merely serves to upgrade the love triangle to a love web. Ludmila is Vika’s plump, middle-aged sidekick, who effectively fills the role of a lame-ass Molly Weasley: a source of tasty baked goodies and motherly love, minus the tough fierceness that makes Molly so endearing. Pasha’s sister, Yuliana, functions as the impetus behind the Crown’s Game, urging her father to commence the contest, but Tsar Alexander is such an unpleasant dickbag that no other scapegoat for starting the game is truly required, rendering Yuliana obsolete. At virtually every given opportunity, he goes out of his way to be rude, condescending, or snappish. During his spiel about the rules of the game, Vika interrupts him as respectfully as possible to inquire about why one Enchanter must die at the end of the game, and Alexander acts as if she’s expressed the desire to hit him in the testicles repeatedly with a large stick. He can’t even muster the patience or sympathy to answer a valid question posed by a competitor – a teenager, mind you – in a fatal contest to be the tsar’s magical toady. When Vika arrives at the ball in her fabulous dress, the tsar snidely remarks that she should “take care not to become too enamored of the tsarevich” because “it will require more than a showy gown to be worthy.” Damn it, dude, she just told you that she fashioned her clothes herself. Would it kill you to just toss out some platitude or another? Honestly, I pity Tsarina Elizabeth – she deserves so much better than Alexander. Sergei’s role is just being Vika’s mentor/father figure and an eventual sacrifice; Sergei’s bitchy sister, Galina, is a fucking psychopath who forces Nikolai to kill animals that she put in his bedroom and doesn’t miss a chance to remind him of his “low birth”. And if you’re holding out for a decent villain, don’t bother: Despite being one of the more interesting characters, Aizhana is just a vengeful zombie who boasts a typhus-riddled black tongue (I kid you not), long fingernails, and a festering grudge. That’s pretty much it.
And just what the fuck is this sentence structure?! The writing is clunky, awkward, and the cause of many an eye-roll. For example: “Nikolai shook his head at the beauty of Bolshebnoie Duplo.” This is an actual sentence in a published book not written for fourth-graders. This is an actual sentence in a published book that is presumably not written by a fourth-grader. I have read and enjoyed books with similar writing flaws, but the other elements of the book compensated for them. Obviously, The Crown’s Game does not.
This clumsy delivery pervades the romance of the book too. In yet another nightmare sentence, Pasha gushes about this gorgeous girl (Vika), whom he spotted from a distance the other day:
“She has red hair, like the most hypnotizing part of a flickering flame, and her voice is both melodic and unflinching.”
Ew, gross, no, stop. You’re embarrassing yourself, Pasha. You heard her speak but three sentences from a distance and now you can describe her voice like that? Not only does this further paint Vika as a Mary Sue, but it also just makes Pasha look like a pompous ass. This sort of florid diction is typically reserved for Lord Byron’s poetry. And then, when Pasha hops back on the boat back to St. Petersburg, Skye writes, “He murmured, ‘Vika,’ to himself, more than once.” Oh. My. God. By this point, I can safely say that Pasha acts like Ron Weasley under the influence of Romilda Vane’s love potion. J.K. Rowling at least had the courtesy to cure Ron of his sorry state by within the chapter; Skye’s characters, on the other hand, continue this behavior throughout Crown’s Game. I can’t pick on just Pasha, not when Vika serves up internal monologues like this one:
“It was as if the attempts to kill her faded into the background, and now she saw the truth at the core of it all: Nikolai’s magic was gorgeous and powerful and… and… Her lungs faltered. Even the mere memory of his magic was so strong. And touching Nikolai, even through her gloves and his sleeve, was like being pummeled by a stampede of wild horses. No, wild unicorns. Beautiful, wild unicorns.”
He’s the other enchanter, and she’s just now figured out that he’s powerful? Also, does she want to fuck him or his magic? If you think Nikolai contributes nothing to this travesty of romance, you’re quite wrong: “He had thought, during the mazurka, that they’d had something. Their touch had both frenzied and frozen the ballroom. Their breathing had synchronized, heatedly.” I could find more examples but I really don’t want to, since I prefer not vomiting.
Skye spends so much time on saccharine pseudo-poetry that she skimps on meaningful interactions between characters, particularly those involved in the two pairings we the readers are supposed to choose between. One carriage ride and a ballroom dance with Vika, whom he’s only known for a couple of weeks, and he thinks he’s so in love with her that when he discovers Nikolai’s identity as the second enchanter and that Nikolai is “in love” with Vika too, he feels betrayed enough to pit the two of them – his best friend and the girl he supposedly loves – against each other in a battle to the death. Nikolai and Vika’s encounters consist of either one attempting to murder the other, often with a crowd of bystanders within view, or gazing longingly into each other’s eyes. Although Vika does have a sweet mother-daughter scene with Ludmila, and Sergei and Galina seem to reach some kind of reconciliation before the former dies, character-to-character interactions are generally superficial and unanimated.
In the end, whether you subject yourself to the agony of reading this book is up to you. Personally, I think it might be less time-consuming to purchase a bottle of high fructose corn syrup from the grocery store, go home, and drink the entire fucker in one sitting. You’d get the same bland, over-sweet experience from whichever one you choose. As for me, I won’t be reading another book of Evelyn Skye’s. I’ve had enough literary corn syrup to last me a lifetime.
You can also read this review on my Goodreads account: