Saturday, February 17, 2018

Russian Copycat: The Crown's Game

Months ago I reviewed a book I had read with great anticipation, only to find great disappointment. The Night Circus had a wonderful premise about romance blossoming in the heat of a magical competition, a duel to the death. As I was reading it, my writer's brain screamed for certain concepts or story threads to be told better. But never would I be so transparent with the borrowing of ideas as The Crown's Game was with this book. The Crown's Game pits a young man and woman against each other in a fatal struggle, where only one enchanter's magic will prevail, and allow that person to become the Imperial Enchanter, an advisor to the Russian Emperor. Having been trained separately, each competitor learns how to harness their magic differently. Vika's magic is flashy and impressive, while Nikolai's is more practical, more analytical. Their duel takes place in St. Petersburg to honor the crown prince's birthday, each taking turns to outdo the other. Eventually, they begin to collaborate. (Any of this sound familiar to Night Circus fans? Try....all of it). Even tiny, insignificant details like the fact that Nikolai is aware of the existence of another enchanter, while Vika is not, feels like they are ripped straight of the pages of another person's book.

I call foul.
The fact that it takes place in Imperial Russia rather than a circus then shows itself for what it is-window-dressing. That's not to say that the descriptions weren't good, but none of it was integral to the story. It could have been set anywhere, as The Night Circus demonstrates. So even though this book was slightly better than The Night Circus, in its enchantments and in the romantic tension between the characters, I can't say that I respect the effort. And in some ways, the advantages of this book are neutralized by certain elements that were saccharine, even when trying to be dark, while in The Night Circus the consequences for all the players becomes more pronounced the deeper into the novel you go. Imperial Russia on the eve of revolution is a very hard and sinister place, or, at least, has the potential to be depicted that way, and I don't think that angle was exploited as much as it could have been to set a more dramatic and compelling tone.

If I read the sequel, The Crown's Fate, I'll be hoping for some originality. It's not that I'm naive or unaware of the degree to which most works today are derivative or otherwise influenced by those that have come before us, but the level to which Evelyn Skye copied another author's plot structure and characterization is, to me, disingenuous. For that reason alone, it's entirely possible that I'll stay away.

Rating: 2/5
**New author goal: 30** - Yay!! (Finished in December 2017, I swear! Check my goodreads page!)

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