The Crown's Game

416p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062422583.
Gr 8 Up—In an alternate 19th-century Russia, the tsar can call upon the abilities of an enchanter. Normally, only one exists at a time. In the rare case that two are born, they must compete, because Russia's inherent magic will allow only one to remain alive. Vika is an expert at controlling the elements and has been training her whole life to serve her country, unaware that another enchanter exists. Nikolai, best friend to the tsar's son, Pasha, who does not know of Nikolai's ability, has been training with his mentor explicitly for the Crown's Game. When the game begins, Vika and Nikolai take turns showing off their magical prowess for the tsar, creating wonders that get more powerful with each turn. Friendships, budding romances, and betrayal among Nikolai, Vika, and Pasha make the stakes even higher in a Game that will cost Nikolai or Vika their life. The forefront of this speculative fiction title, the action-packed, magical duel, is set against the backdrop of a richly detailed world. It is not surprising that Pasha and Nikolai fall for Vika, though Vika's pragmatism stops anything from developing. The book ends with one winner remaining, but the final sentence hints that the loser has not disappeared forever. Readers will eagerly await the next installment.
VERDICT A blend of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone (Holt, 2012), this work will make a solid addition to young adult collections.

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