The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (2016)

So a translucent haze surrounded Vika, shifting her appearance to whatever the onlooker expected to see. To the innkeeper at Oredezh, who had assumed the woman accompanying Sergei was his wife, she had looked like a middle-aged woman, with country clothes and rough features to match her husband. To the stable boy who saddled their horses, she had seemed to be a young man, an obedient son to a grumbling father. And to herself, when she had passed by a lake reflecting her image, she had appeared wild and feral, her outside as out of control as her inside. Or perhaps this was how she’d actually looked (p 72).

crownsgameTwo enchanters duel to the death for the title of Imperial Enchanter – while impossibly and predictably falling in love – in a competition of magical prowess initiated by the Tsar in an alternate Russia.

Vika is an elemental enchantress, harnessing the power of nature to perform grand pieces of magic. Trained by her father in a loving environment, Vika was raised believing she would step into the role of Imperial Enchanter unchallenged.

Nikolai, raised by an emotionally distant and cold mentor, knew another enchanter existed to challenge him. He was taught to be a killer, working detailed enchantments under great stress from the time of his adoption as a young boy.

What neither expected was to find completion in the other as they competed in a series of challenges to earn the right to advise the Tsar, whose son happens to be Nikolai’s best friend.

Skye’s world-building is solid, the atmosphere enchanting and her characters grounded and whole, though the overall plot has been well trodden by YA authors over the last decade.

As a couple of important plot lines are left dangling or ambiguous at the conclusion and at least one yet unrevealed secret is hinted at, readers are sure to be rooting for a sequel.

Read the Kirkus starred review.

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