SYNOPSIS: There can only be one Imperial Enchanter in all of Russia, so when two enchanters are born in the same generation the Tsar must commence a game wherein the players seek to outwit, outmatch, and be more impressive than the other in order to win the game and keep their life. Vika and Nikolai have been training for this their entire lives, but when the time comes to put their skills to the test, everything becomes more complicated than intended.
Sweeping is the word that best describes this novel. You can tell that Skye put a lot of thought and detail into the world of this book from the characters to the setting and just getting to enjoy that is like taking a stroll through a long gone world. I could vividly picture all the sights of St. Petersburg and Vika’s island and the magic that each enchanter executes. The world is so beautiful and there is love in every description. I love how all the characters fit into their stations and how just about every relationship has some sort of complication and every character has an opposite. I love that Pasha struggles to be the kind of ruler that he ought to be whereas his sister Yuliana excels where he does not. I love that Nikolai can create anything that requires some sort of construction from buildings to clothes, but struggles with nature whereas Vika is all nature and can’t build artificial things. Even kind-hearted Sergei finds a foil in his calculating and cold sister, Galina. Then there is Ludmila and Renata who offer unwavering love and support for their respective friends that really help when Vika and Nikolai so often don’t know where to turn. Food is also an important part of this story and just the names of all the sweets in Ludmila’s bakery are enough to make you want to eat as much of the Russian finery as you can. However, as much as I love the food, world, and characters, I kept bumping up against a wall that prevented me from enjoying this book to its full extent. The first wall I encountered was that some moments and subplots were resolved too quickly and too easily. For example I wanted some more interaction between Pasha and his father where they had a good heart to heart about what he wants to be as a Tsar and what his father wants him to be or even some more of Yuliana forcing him to be someone he doesn’t want to be. I also thought the subplot with Aizhana was resolved too quickly, but then again there will be a sequel so it might come into play later. The second was the “romantic” relationship that blooms between Vika and Nikolai. Every time they thought about each other or talked about each other it was always in reference to the magic the other possesses, so I had a hard time believing that either one loved the person rather than the magic. It would’ve been easier for me to get on board with if they had some interactions or thoughts that didn’t involve magic. That being said the ending is perfection. Although it doesn’t end on a bright and happy note I do think there is enough of a finality to things where you feel like the story has been told to the best of its ability and you get a sense of closure. The only downside is that there is a sequel and I don’t know what to expect! I’m excited to see the follow up and I can’t wait to explore more of Skye’s Russia!