4 out of 5 stars
I received an ARC of this work.
This review will contain spoilers for The Crown’s Game and a few very early book spoilers for this one (though they are also found in the book description.
This is the second in the duology written by Evelyn Skye. There is currently a small niche of fantasy books that take place in a tsarist Russia. This is the only series, so far at least, that has attempted to place itself against an actual historic backdrop instead of just a fairly believable facade. It is set in Russia, 1825 during the Decembrist revolt. Tsar Alexander has passed away in the first book and his son Pasha (Nicholas I) is on his way to being crowned (though his bossy sister Yuliana does interfere a LOT).
Vika won the Crown’s game in the first book and is the Imperial Enchanter. While this does come with a luxurious lifestyle, it also comes with an oath of obedience and an enchanted bracelet that threatens to burn her if she disobeys. Given her fiery nature, this will not work well. Nikolai, the other contender, having sacrificed himself to save her, is now trapped between life and death in his enchanted bench on Vika’s island. Since his mother managed to pull herself back from death by leeching life from worms and, later, from slaughtering people, it is do-able, but his preference would be a much gentler way. His undead mother might try to persuade him otherwise though.
While the first book really saw Vika and Nikolai falling in love while competing, this one has Nikolai slowly going evil and Vika having to fight him because Pasha and Yuliana compel her to. Both Pasha and Vika are torn between their loyalty to Nikolai and their fear of him trying to take over Russia. He slowly turns from a very gentle character into something more sinister. Vika, if she wants to try and save Nikolai, has to find a way to
What I did not enjoy about this book was that they did not have the displays of beautiful magic that I enjoyed so much in the first book. Part of the Crown Game was celebrating Pasha’s birthday and having beautiful and creative shows of magic. In this book it has changed mostly to combat, which is the way most fantasy books work. I loved seeing the gorgeous, fanciful things that the author came up with. There is still a bit in this one, but not nearly as much.
I loved the way Nikolai trying to seize the throne was intertwined with the historic Decembrist revolution. There are not a lot of fantasy books that I read that work that closely with real historic events and try and work magic into the cause of something that happened in this world. Sometimes magic rides alongside, but in this case it was worked into the actual cause of the event itself. It was clever and fun to read.
This was a solid conclusion. It took on a more solid and sombre tone, played with the relationships a bit more and came to a very satisfying ending.