Every so often I just love to put myself through the experience that is reading the sequel to a book I read nearly 6 years ago! That is the case with The Crown’s Fate, which picks off where The Crown’s Game left off. Somehow, that first book and the description of this one were enough to keep it on my to-read list after a massive purge I did shortly after joining the StoryGraph. Then I found this book through my library’s ebook collection, and I was good to go.
There can only be one … Imperial Enchanter, that is. In Evelyn Skye’s reimagining of the Decembrist revolution, Vika triumphed over Nikolai in the deadly Crown’s Game to become the Imperial Enchanter. She discovers that she is quite literally bound to follow the wishes of the tsarevich and his sister. But Nikolai didn’t quite die (they never do, do they?), and his vengeful mother helps resurrect him at the price of some of the goodness in his soul. Confused, embittered, betrayed, Nikolai vows to use his newfound knowledge of his paternity to take the throne of Russia from Pasha. Vika, still in love but also bound to that throne, must find a way to satisfy her masters while, ideally, saving Nikolai from himself.
Skye’s decision to make Nikolai into an antagonist is an inspired one. I wasn’t sure where the story would go at first—with Nikolai trapped in a dreamlike “ante-death” and Vika bound to Pasha and Yuliana, would they team up to rebel against the tsardom? That seemed like how it was going at first, and I would have been on board. But pitting them against each other again, while perhaps uninspired as a reprisal of the first book, was also very satisfying. Nikolai is a potent antagonist because his anger comes from a legitimate, believable source. Pasha did betray him. Nikolai’s mother is in some ways the true villain behind the scenes, and it’s interesting what happens to her. But all in all, I appreciated how Skye makes Nikolai’s heel turn feel very believable.
I also appreciate how Vika, while clearly still in love with him and drawn to him, does not fall for his nonsense. He invites her to join him multiple times, encourages her, tells her they can rule Russia together—and she’s like, “Boy, no.” Good for you, Vika! She isn’t doing it out of her loyalty to the crown—she’s doing it for Nikolai’s sake, and the knife’s edge she must balance on to maintain all of her loyalties is the best part of this novel.
There are some parts of the book that aren’t as gratifying. In general, most of the other characters aren’t fleshed out. Similarly, Skye could have done so much more regarding the burgeoning of magic that accompanies the Russian people’s recovering belief in it. We see hints of Baba Yaga, of giant catfish kings, but this is background and then only recapitulated again towards the ending. Overall, I love how Skye re-imagines nineteenth-century Russia with magic in mind. But there was so much more room for depth to this world.
In the end, The Crown’s Fate was captivating enough, intense enough, that I devoured it quickly. I don’t regret holding on to it on my to-read list; if you read the first book, this sequel is worth it for sure. And the different setting, the interesting ideas—all of it was a lot of fun.