Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Crown's Game

The Crown's Game

Evelyn Skye
For ages 13 and up
HarperCollins, 2016   ISBN: 978-0062422583

Long ago magic was widely used in Russia, but then the church and the powers that be, afraid of what magic could do and afraid of those who could wield it, decided to suppress the use of magic and so it died out. Now magic is something that is mentioned in fairy tales, and most people do not believe that it exists; and yet it does exist. Every Russian tsar has an Imperial Enchanter who helps him take care of and safeguard the country; he has a magic worker by his side whose existence is kept a secret.

Some years ago two people knowledgeable in the ways of magic, a brother and sister, each found a child who had a powerful magical gift. The woman, Countess Galina Zakrevskaya, purchased an orphan called Nikolai in a Kazakh village and brought him back to St. Petersburg. Ever since then she has been training Nikolai, preparing him to become the next Imperial Enchanter. Galina is a cold and calculating woman, and she has forced Nikolai to be resourceful by refusing to give him decent clothes to wear and spending money. When he decided that he wanted to take dancing and fencing lesson so that he could be a proper gentleman, Nikolai had to find a way to pay for the lessons himself. For Galina, Nikolai is more of a thing than a person with needs and feeling.

Galina’s brother, Sergei, also found a child, a little girl called Vika, and he has been raising her on Ovchincin Island. Unlike his sister, Sergie treats his trainee as his own and loves her fiercely. Vika is a very powerful enchanter and has learned how to manipulate the weather, among other things. Vika works hard at her studies to prepare herself so that she might be the Imperial Enchanter one day. Vika has no idea that there is another enchanter-in-training in Russia.

She is therefore shocked when Sergie, the man she thinks is her father, tells her that they will be going to the Enchanted Hollow where she will take the oath for the Crown’s Game. She learns then that as she is not the only enchanter, she will have to complete a series of tests to prove that she is the one who should serve the tsar.  It turns out that the tsar can only have one Imperial Enchanter and the one who loses the Game will die.

Vika knows nothing about Nikolai, but he knows a little about her. Purely by chance he and his friend Pasha, the tsarevich, were visiting Ovchinin Island when Vika was practicing her skills. Both young men saw what she could do and were awestruck by her abilities. Though Pasha has no real understanding of what he is saw, Nikolai does, and he therefore knows that Vika is going to be a formidable adversary.

Nikolai, Vika, and their mentors travel to the Enchanted Hollow and there the tsar explains the rules of the Game to them. They must take it in turns to complete five enchantments and at any point in the game the tsar will choose the enchanter whom he thinks will serve him best as his advisor and helper. Both enchanters swear an oath to the tsar, they are magically branded, and the game officially begins. The two mentors are sent away so that they cannot influence the young people.

Though the magical brand will incinerate the loser of the magical duel when the game ends, Nikolai knows that Galina expects him to try to eliminate Vika as soon as possible. He is the first enchanter to cast an enchantment and once his spell is complete, he attacks Vika using stone gargoyle birds. Thankfully, she is able to fight them off and she then sets about casting her first enchantment in the Game. She also tries to drown Nikolai, but she too is unsuccessful. Round two will now begin.

Planning and executing their enchantments and assassination attempts presents Vika and Nikolai with great challenges, but what makes their tasks even more complicated is the fact that they both feel a mixture of fear, respect, regret, and attraction for each other. What makes matters even worse is that Pasha is determined to find the girl he saw on Ovchinin Island, and nothing Nikolai says will convince him to set aside his quest.

This unique novel explores how three young people cope with the roles that fate has handed them. None of them chose the challenges that they are presented with, and yet they are still expected to do their best, and even give their lives for the cause. With an engaging plot, vibrant characters, and fascinating feats of magic, this is a tale that will delight readers who are attracted to stories that are about magical events.