An ancient duel of magical skill will begin in Russia. The Tsar needs a powerful enchanter at his side as war moves closer. The duel, called The Crown’s Game, ends with one competitor being named enchanter.
The other competitor is condemned to death.
Evelyn Skye’s magical The Crown’s Game, the first in a series taking place in a breathtaking alternate Russia, is on the wishlists of YA fantasy fans around the world.
“My favorite enchantments are the ones where the characters do something for another. Then it’s not only showmanship, but also kindness or cruelty, happiness or sadness, and everything in between. It is magic, as glimmers of the strengths and flaws of our humanity.”
A magical Russia didn’t spring to Skye overnight. She first fell in love with Russia in high school, when her AP Literature class read Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Her curiosity piqued so intensely that Skye became penpals with a Russian boy online, studying Russian culture in her spare time, until she ultimately graduated from Stanford with a Bachelor’s degree in Russian literature and history.
Because of her studies, she didn’t need to do much research for writing The Crown’s Game, at least not in the traditional sense. But her visit to Russia in 2003, where she traveled along the Volga River from Moscow to St. Petersburg, inspired many of the locations in her own story.
Her penpal, who lived in St. Petersburg, also inspired her.
“In fact, the fictional island on which Vika lives is named after my penpal! He’s since asked me for the GPS coordinates of this so-called place that bears his last name. Funny guy.”
Vika, of course, is one of the two magic users competing in the Crown’s Game. She’s skilled, ambitious, born with the powers she wields. Her father mentored her on the tiny forest island for her entire life, preparing her for to become the best enchanter in the kingdom.
Some readers would find that ambition and pride a character flaw, something Skye shouldn’t have written in, rather than a core facet of Vika’s character. But Skye loves Vika as she is: an enchantress proud and strong.
“It brings up an interesting point about women vs. men. No one would find Nikolai’s ambition and pride annoying, you know? He can do things no one else can, and as a boy, it’s just seen as well deserved confidence. But because Vika is a girl, some might find her self-assurance jarring. And yet, she’s an enchantress who can do everything from communicate with animals to conjure lightning storms from a calm sky. She is literally one of a kind. So why should she be required to don a mantle of false modesty, just because she’s a girl? This is why Vika doesn’t. She knows who she is, and she knows she has a right to be proud of it. She doesn’t bother with what other people want her to be or act how they think she should act; she just keeps pushing herself to be better and better at commanding her magic, all the while being (rightfully) pleased with all the amazing enchantments she has already accomplished.”
Nikolai is Vika’s core rival, an enchanter who struggles a little more with pride in his skills, though he’s clever and skilled in a more technical sort of magic. His family – a mystery to both him and the readers, which Skye says will play into the unfolding plot – abandoned him on the Kazakh steppe as a child.
Eventually, he is “brought to St. Petersburg and groomed for elegant, aristocratic society. But because of his roots, he never feels he quite fits in. This is important, because it drives him, both socially and magically.”
Readers will see what both Nikolai and Vika think, along with an assortment of other characters – Pasha, the prince; Yuliana, the princess; Sergei, Vika’s father – over the course of the book. Skye only wrote first person, present-tense before penning The Crown’s Game, but peeking into everybody’s head felt natural for this story.
“In part, it’s an homage to the style of the Russian masters, like Tolstoy. But mostly, I think that’s just the way this story wanted to be told, because that’s how it flowed from my brain to fingertips to ink.”
The Crown’s Game releases on May 17.
“It’s about love between family, between friends, and also between potential lovers. … It’s just the chaotic web of real life, the love we make and break and try to weave back together again.”