Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Beauty and the Beast has never been my favourite story, but when I saw that this BATB retelling was set in medieval Russia and incorporated aspects of Ivan Tsarevitch, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf, it went straight onto my TBR list!

Hunted follows Yeva (nicknamed Beauty by her family), a young girl who’s a skilled hunter after training for years beside her father in the woods close to their village. Yeva has a comfortable life with her father and two sisters, spending most of her days accompanying the baronessa of the village with a group of other women. However, she grows tired of living up to the standards of high society, and longs to live in the woods and carry on hunting – and also to meet someone who will understand her unconventional ways and treat her as an equal with admirable skills, rather than a submissive woman. 

When Yeva’s father loses his fortune, her family is forced to move back to his small hunting cabin deep in the woods. This may seem like a blessing in disguise for Yeva, who is finally able to escape the confines of high society, until the day that her father goes missing after becoming convinced that there is a beast living in the forest chasing away his prey. Yeva is then forced to go deep into the woods to search for him. What follows becomes a merging of Beauty and the Beast alongside Ivan and the Firebird, mixed with multiple other Russian folktales that I’ve come to love over the years.
I generally have three problems with Beauty and the Beast, and thankfully, Hunted eradicates all of them. First off, the stockholm syndrome. Yeva gets to know the Beast and forms a bond with him before knowing that he is the one who imprisoned her, and once she finds out, she struggles with her fondness for her mysterious friend Ivan, and the beast who chained her up and who she believes hurt her father. There is also a conversation between Yeva and a friend of hers about abusive relationships – something which I’ve definitely never seen in a Beauty and the Beast retelling before, and which improved the story as a whole so much. Issues like this need to be addressed in these sort of stories, and I was so thankful that Meagan Spooner took the time to add this conversation into the book. 
Second, I’ve never really liked Belle/Beauty in these stories. Thankfully, Yeva was a much more interesting character – she’s a strong female character (and we can never have too many of those, in my opinion), she had depth, she was incredibly selfless and always put others before her (even those who hurt her), she was determined and she knew exactly what she wanted, and I really came to relate to her story. The author’s note at the back of Hunted points out that this is very much a coming of age story that the author herself feels relates to her own life, and I could also relate to so much of it, so Yeva really grew on me. 

Third, the sisters. I don’t think I’ve ever read or seen a version of Beauty and the Beast where Beauty’s sisters aren’t awful to her, but Yeva’s sisters, Lena and Asenka, are both wonderful characters in their own right and are always looking out for their younger sister. I really enjoyed both of their individual stories and would definitely read more about them. 
Fourth (I think) the Gaston character. We’ve all seen this guy be the typical douche (lets take Tamlin in ACOTAR, for example) but Yeva’s suitor, Solmir, is actually such a nice person and admires Yeva’s talent for hunting and tracking – he doesn’t treat her like she’s below him or expect her to be the typical wife figure, and constantly reassures her that he’d never impose any expectations on her if they were to marry. When she’s unsure about being with him, he doesn’t push her at all and promises to protect her family when she leaves the cabin to search for their father. There was honestly a small part of me that was shipping him with Yeva, he was just that lovely!
And finally, the ‘fall in love to break the spell’ trope. Without spoiling anything, I’m so happy to say that the Beast isn’t constantly trying to force Yeva to fall in love with him in order to break his curse. He believes that his curse has to be broken in other ways that require Yeva’s help – but I won’t say anything else on this as it’ll spoil too much of the plot! 
I have to say that the incorporation of Ivan Tsarevitch, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf worked so perfectly with this story, and the second half of this book is definitely more of a retelling of this folktale than of Beauty and the Beast. It was done in such a clever way, and I’m still in awe at the way that the author managed to weave the two together and set the result in medieval Russia so perfectly. I’m always on the lookout for new books inspired by Russian folklore, and I’m so glad that I came across Hunted.

love Becky @


Russian Fiction

cover art from ‘A Thousand Pieces of You’ by Claudia Gray

Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love everything and anything Russian. Like, probably a bit too much. Every time I find a new Russian-based novel that I haven’t read or heard of, I just have to get my hands on it as soon as possible. I decided that, because of all this, it was high time that I put together a list of my top ten favourites when it comes to Russian fiction. So, here we go!
(p.s. this is going to be a loooong post, so don’t say that I didn’t warn you)


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‘Dariya and I used to play French Revolution when we were little. We’d take turns being Marie Antoinette. Our Grandmamma caught us once and had us whipped for revolutionary sentiments. We were six years old at the time and had no idea even what revolutionary sentiments were.’

10. The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges
Setting: Russia, 1888
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
on Goodreads

The Gathering Storm series follows Katerina, a member of the Russian aristocracy with a dark secret: she can raise the dead. The story mostly shows Katerina attempting to juggle her life as a Dutchess, including attending dances and her classes at the Smolny institute, alongside her trying to discover why the dead are rising, and pushing away the advances of Prince Danilo of Montenegro. This was an entertaining read (and definitely the first Russian book I’ve read with zombies and vampires in it) but I found that it went a bit too over the top towards the end.

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‘Krasivaya. It means beautiful, but with strength.’

9. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Setting: Lithuania, 1941
Genre: Historical Fiction
on Goodreads | full review here!


Between Shades of Gray is an historical fiction novel focusing on Stalin’s labour camps. The main character, Lina, and her family are taken from their home in Lithuania and sent across the USSR, eventually ending up at a labour camp in Siberia. I found this book to be interesting in an historical sense, however, I don’t think it was quite immersive enough. With such a sad, interesting premise, and such heartbreaking events happening throughout, I feel as though this book would have benefited from allowing the reader to have more of a connection with the main character. Despite this, I would recommend it, as it gives an insight into the suffering of the people of the Baltic states during Stalin’s Soviet Union, something which I knew little about before reading this book.

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‘”Every form of art is another way of seeing the world. Another perspective, another window. And science – that’s the most spectacular window of all. You can see the entire universe from there. So it’s like we gave each other the whole world, tied up in ribbon.”
“You want me to learn the entire universe?” His grin is natural, somewhat abashed; we are no longer guard and grand duchess, just a guy and a girl, standing very close. “For you I will.”‘

8. A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray 
Setting: California, present day/Tsarist Russia
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
on Goodreads

The Firebird trilogy is primarily set in modern day California, however, the plot leads the main character Marguerite to an alternate Russia in which the Tsars still reign. A Thousand Pieces of You, the first book of the trilogy, tells the story of Marguerite’s quest to follow family friend Paul Markov through dimensions with her parents dimension-jumping invention, the Firebird. I have to say, the Russian dimension is definitely my favourite (and this may or may not have anything to do with Lieutenant Markov…)

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‘The Crown’s Game is an old one, older than the tsardom itself. It began long ago, in the age of Rurik, Prince of Novgorod, when Russia was still a cluster of tribes, wild and lawless and young. As the country matured over the centuries, so, too, did the game. But always, always it retained its untamed fierceness. For the winner of the game, there would be unimaginable power. For the defeated, desolate oblivion. The Crown’s Game was not one to lose.’

7. The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
Setting: Russia, 1825
Genre: Alternate Historical Fiction
on Goodreadsfull review here!

Vika and Nikolai are both enchanters – born with magic that they can manipulate. Vika can control the elements, and Nikolai has power over mechanical objects. When the Tsar begins the Crowns Game, a challenge between the enchanters of Russia with the winner becoming the Imperial Enchanter, Vika and Nikolai are forced into a fight to the death. This truly was a magical book, set in a Russian period which I didn’t know much about before. There is a love triangle in this book, but it’s actually not a bad one! I’d recommend if you’re looking for a Russian based book that’s more centred around magic than history!

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‘There was no mistaking a Russian winter. It was a unique thing, a creature born and bred for Russian soil, one that sometimes brutalised the natives but often served as our secret weapon. Napoleon’s army was defeated not only by the Russian people, but by Russia herself.’

6. Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick
Setting: Russia, 1917
Genre: Alternate Historical Fiction
on Goodreads | full review here!

Natalya and Tsarevich Alexei Romanov are in love, and everything is perfect. What could happen to ruin Natalya’s plan of marrying Alexei, and him becoming the most perfect Tsar that Russia has ever seen?
The communist revolution, is what.
When the Winter Palace is sieged and Alexei and his family are taken hostage, Natalya must try to gain access to the palace to rescue the constellation egg – a fabergé egg created for the Romanov’s by Rasputin, which will ensure their family keeps the Russian throne. When she discovers that the egg is missing, Natalya must team up with Leo, a communist who has taken her and her friend Emilia hostage, to find the egg.
Tsarina isn’t completely historically accurate – for example, it merges the revolutions of Feburary 1917 and October 1917 into one event, and Alexei Romanov never had a long-standing romance with Natalya (considering he died when he was 13, this is understandable) – however, the author changing these for plot points completely made sense, and she did state her changes in the afterword. I did find this to be a really enjoyable book; it merged the magic of everyday Russia with the mysticism of their folklore, all set during the revolution. I enjoyed watching Natalya grow, and seeing her relationship with Leo develop as she grew to trust him.

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‘”Fine,” he said with a weary shrug. “Make me your villain.”‘ 

5. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Setting: Ravka (Russian-inspired world)
Genre: Fantasy
on Goodreads

Who doesn’t love Leigh Bardugo? She’s got to be one of my favourite authors at the moment. For those who haven’t read The Grisha Trilogy, it’s the story of Alina and her journey to discovering her hidden Grisha powers. It’s set in a Russian inspired land called Ravka, and is stuffed full of beautiful anti-heroes (well, one in particular), wars, and some general Russian-inspired things. I have a lot of issues with this trilogy (mainly that I didn’t like the ending or the way Alina is forced to hide her strength and put herself down to be with Mal), however, I think this trilogy is one that really kicked off the popularity of Russian-inspired fantasy, so it’s most definitely worth mentioning on this list.

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‘Then the eyes of the little doll began to shine like two candles. It ate a little of the bread and drank a little of the soup and said: “Don’t be afraid, Wassilissa the Beautiful. Be comforted. Say thy prayers, and go to sleep. The morning is wiser than the evening.”‘ 
– from Wassilissa the Beautiful

4. Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
Setting: Brooklyn, present day
Genre: Fantasy/Folklore Retelling
on Goodreadsfull review here!

Vassa in the Night is a loose retelling of the Russian folklore tale, Vasillisa the Beautiful. Vassa lives in a Brooklyn where the days last mere hours, the nights go on for days and the local convenience store beheads shoplifters. When her stepsister forces her to venture out to buy lightbulbs during one of the long nights, there’s only one store she can go to – BY’s, owned by Babs Yagg, who is likely to behead you for stealing (whether you actually did it or not). Vassa is forced to make a deal with Babs – three nights working at BY’s with no mistakes, and she can go home. Should she fail, her heads will join the others outside. Vassa has a secret though – a tiny wooden doll named Erg, gifted to her by her mother before she died, who can help her pass Babs’s trials. This book is really whimsical, strange, and frankly, just so reminiscent of so many aspects of Russian folklore. If you’re planning on reading it, I would recommend reading the original tale first – it’ll help the novel make a lot more sense, trust me!

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‘Then Morozko, leaping from tree to tree, came upon her. “Are you warm, dear?” He asked. “Welcome, my dear Morozko. Yes, I am quite warm,” she said, even though she was cold to the bone. At first, Morozko had wanted to freeze the life out of her with his icy grip. But he admired the young girl’s stoicism and showed mercy. He gave her a warm fur coat and downy quilts before he left.’
– from the tale of Morozko

3. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Setting: 14th Century Russia
Genre: Fantasy/Folklore 
on Goodreads

This beautiful book isn’t actually out until January 2017 (shoutout to NetGalley for sending us both ARC’s!) but it just had to be on this list. To put it simply, it’s a fairytale-esque Russian story set in the 14th Century, loosely based on the Russian folklore tale of Morozko – the Frost King. It’s wonderfully, whimsically written, with just the right amount of darkness thrown in, and the mixture of fantasy and reality couldn’t be more perfect. I would definitely recommend pre-ordering this book or getting it on your wish lists!

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‘The bear had already become what it had been waiting to be, and the men who set it on its journey changed too. Lev became Trotsky, Vladimir took the name Lenin, and they stepped into a bright and furious modern world; blood red, and snow white.’

2. Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick
Setting: Revolution-era Russia
Genre: Historical Fiction
on Goodreadsfull review here!

Blood Red, Snow White is split into three parts: the first part being a fantasy-esque recap of the beginning of the Bolshevik’s revolution in February 1917, and the build up to it. The second and third parts move on to tell the story of Arthur Ransome – the second part taking place over one evening with flashbacks to how he ended up in Russia, and the third spanning over most of the rest of his life. Ransome was a journalist who, during WWI, travelled to Russia (partly due to leaving his wife and partly to document the war) and whilst there fell in love with a Russian woman who just happened to be Trotsky’s secretary and, some say, became either a Bolshevik sympathiser or a British spy – or perhaps both. 

I really enjoyed reading Ransome’s story; I literally finished this book in a couple of hours. If you’re looking for high fantasy, this book probably won’t be what you’re after. If you’re looking for the history of the Russian revolutions of 1917 from the perspective of a man who was connected to Lenin and Trotsky (with some fictional details added in) then this is definitely the book for you. At the end of the book, there are also lots of historical documents, such as telegrams discussing whether or not Ransome had become a Bolshevik, and therefore a threat to Britain. Overall, this is an absolutely fascinating book that gave me a real insight into Russia during the revolution.

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‘I am your loyalty. I am your Kommissar.’

1. Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Setting: WWII Russia
Genre: Fantasy
on Goodreads

Ah, my holy grail of Russian fiction. If you haven’t heard me wax poetic about this book yet, be prepared.
Deathless is a loose retelling of the Russian story of The Death of Koschei the Deathless. It’s filled with birds who transform into men, Baba Yaga and her pestle and mortar, beautiful deathless anti-heroes, Stalinist house-elves, the siege of Leningrad, Firebirds, badass women fighting in the war between life and death, sets of three quests, and people who’ve seen the world naked. It is written like a poem or a fairytale – a poetic fairytale? I don’t know. The writing is just plain beautiful. I would highly recommend reading the original tale (which you can do here) if you’d like an insight into what the story is about, or if you just want to be able to make sense of the book – because I’ll be honest, there is no straight plot line in this book. However, this is anything but a negative thing. To give you a quick summary, Marya Morevna waits for a husband to come for her after seeing her sisters married off. One day, Koschei the Tsar of Life comes to take her away to his home of Buyan, a disappearing island from Slavic mythology. There, she must complete Baba Yaga’s three tasks to become Koschei’s Queen. However, Koschei is at war with the Tsar of death – a war which is running parallel to WWII and the seige of Marya’s home of Leningrad.
This is the book that got me into this crazy obsession for Russian fiction, and if you’re interested in joining me in this madess, I’d highly recommend this book as a starting point.

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What do you think of my choices? Have you got any recommendations for other Russian-based books? Let us know in the comments!

Love,

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, Pytor hides the gift away and Vasya grows up a wild, willful girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

The Bear and The Nightingale is a beautiful, fairytale-like story set around 14th Century Russia. Inspired by many Russian folklore tales, specifically the story of Morozko the Frost King, it follows the life of Vasya. It’s a story of family, the rising of orthodox Christianity in a pagan land that still worships household spirits, sacrifice, and wild untameable girls. The Bear and the Nightingale perfectly weaves fairytale into reality, incorporating traditional Slavic spirits – such as the household protective spirit, the domovoi – with harsh Russian winters and the day to day life of a family living by the forest in Northern Russia in the Middle Ages. 
A quick summary of the book – Vasya is born to Marina and Pyotr, and Marina predicts that Vasya will be different, as her mother was (a woman who many believed to be dabbling in witchcraft). Marina dies giving birth to Vasya, but pleas with Pyotr to protect her, telling him that she is special. The years pass, and Pyotr travels to Moscow to find a husband for his eldest daughter Olga, and a new wife for himself. When leaving the city, a stranger threatens Pyotr’s son, and in exchange for his life, bids Pyotr to give his youngest daughter (Vasya) a necklace embedded with a precious jewel. Pyotr is unwilling, and gives the necklace to the household maid, Dunya, to gift Vasya with. Dunya recognises the necklace for what it is – a gift from the Frost King Morozko – and pleads with him to let her keep the necklace safe until Vasya is grown. 
Meanwhile, the Priest Konstantin arrives in Vasya’s village. Anna, her stepmother, tells the Priest that she sees demons everywhere, and Konstantin makes it his mission to rid the village of their pagan ways. In turn, Vasya discovers that she must protect these demons – actually the Russian protective spirits of the household, horses etc – in order to protect her family. As Vasya grows into a young woman, Konstantin is constantly tempted by her, whilst at the same time believing her to be a witch. What follows is a battle against darker forces than either Vasya or Konstantin expected to be up against, in the dark Russian midwinter.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book – I’ve always been a huge fan of Russian folklore and modern day novels inspired by it, and this book introduced me to a traditional Russian tale that I haven’t come across before. Vasya was the perfect main character – she was elusive, brave and plucky, and as wild as the author made her out to be. In my opinion, the balance between mythology and reality was absolutely perfect; the two were expertly blended and neither felt as though it was overpowering the other. I enjoyed the relationship between Konstantin and Vasya – the way that he was drawn to her whilst at the same time almost repulsed by her, and the way she constantly felt the need to protect him even though she believed that he would cause the downfall of her village and her people. This was such a complex, magical book, and I would definitely recommend it, especially if you enjoy Russian mythology or similar slow-building fantasy novels (for example, Uprooted by Naomi Novik).

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love,


Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night, a retelling of the Russian folklore tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, tells the story of Vassa, a young girl living in an alternate Brooklyn that is plagued by dark magic. Residents of Vassa’s neighbourhood have noticed that, whilst the days last mere hours, the nights last for days – and this all started when the local convenience store,  BY’s, was open by Babs Yagg – a shopkeeper who has a tendency to behead thieves. When Vassa heads out to BY’s in need of lightbulbs, she finds herself tied up in a contract with Babs, and her life will be forfeit if she’s unable to work at the store for three nights without making any mistakes. However, Vassa has help – a magical wooden doll by the name of Erg, made for Vassa by her mother before she passed away. With Erg’s trickery, can Vassa survive three nights at BY’s, and maybe even break the curse upon her neighbourhood?

Bookmark from Behind the Pages

I’ve always been a huge fan of Russian-inspired fiction, so when I received Vassa in the Night in September’s Fairyloot box, I was over the moon! I had previously read the tale of Vasilisa the Beautiful, and I would recommend reading it if you’re planning on looking into this novel – if anything, it’ll help you understand what’s going on when the magic gets too much!

Overall, Vassa in the Night is quite a quirky, nonsensical book – but this is often the case with folklore, and definitely isn’t a negative. It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite books, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, but is written in a much more whimsical style to this. The book is very much written like a fairytale, what with the “things coming in threes” aspect, the overarching quest to save Brooklyn, the hero (Vassa) and the villain (Babs). There were also interludes which took place whilst Vassa was asleep, a little touch which I really liked – and these definitely complemented the plot. 

Vassa as a main character was interesting, but I didn’t fully connect with her. I liked her attitude and sarcasm, but would’ve liked to have got to know her a little bit better. I do feel as though Erg got in the way of this at points, as she could be a very irritating character at times. I sometimes struggle with magic realism as a genre, but it managed to (mostly) make complete sense in this book – it worked well, in any case. It stuck to both the original story and to Russian folklore in general really well, and I appreciated this as the Russian aspects were basically what made me want to read it in the first place. 



The only negatives I had with this book was that it could be a bit slow at times – considering that the majority of it is set in one location, this is bound to happen. I also did get a bit confused at some points, such as some sort of crazy fight scene towards the end (which confused me so much that I genuinely am not quite sure what happened). There was also a bit of a love interest at one point, which I just didn’t understand – it came from nowhere and had absolutely no build up or purpose.

I’m not entirely sure who to recommend this book to, just because it’s written in such a niche style, but if you’re interested in Russian mythology or magic realism, I would definitely recommend taking a look at it! 

Have you read Vassa in the Night? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments!

Love,

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Imagine, and it shall be.
There are no limits.


In an alternate Imperialist Russia of 1825, the Tsar has been surrounded by threats from all sides. Facing the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs, he decides to begin the Crown’s Game – a fight to the death between Russia’s two enchanters, with the winner receiving the title of Imperial Enchanter, as well as their life.

Enchanter One, Nikolai, has grown up in Saint Petersburg and is best friends with the Tsarevich, Pasha. He has ultimate control over mechanical objects. Enchanter Two, Vika, can manipulate and control the elements around her. When both Pasha and Nikolai find themselves falling for Vika, they both have decisions to make – can Pasha go against his Father’s and his country’s expectations by courting a mysterious girl who isn’t royalty? Can Nikolai save her life, only to condemn his own?


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3.5/5 stars.

Lately, all that I’ve been in the mood for is books that are set in Russia or inspired by Russian culture, so needless to say, The Crown’s Game was perfect for me in that aspect. I loved the setting – I’ve read a few novels set in Russia recently, but none from this time period. It was really interesting to see the beginnings of rebellion hinted at throughout the novel after Russia’s victory over Napoleon, and the Tsar failing to live up to his promises of equality to the common people. In the authors note, Evelyn Skye mentions that she has studied Russian culture and Slavic languages for years, and you can really tell – she pays attention to all of the little details, and I could easily picture the historical based world that she was building.
I also liked the characters – Vika’s character was really interesting and I’m hoping to learn more of her back story in The Crown’s Heir. I loved Pasha – he was so feisty and adventurous, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to him. Nikolai was definitely my least favourite of the trio, and I do think that I would have connected with him a lot more if his story had been built on and he wasn’t so melancholy when it came to Vika; he often chastised Pasha for barely knowing her yet claiming to love her, yet he had had even less interactions with her and was claiming the exact same thing. 
Since the blurb of the book makes it clear that there will be a love triangle, I was expecting it, and it definitely wasn’t the worst love triangle I’ve ever seen (hello, Twilight). However, it was more of a love-square or something – Pasha and Nikolai are both after Vika, and a servant girl is also madly in love with Nikolai. I didn’t care much for either of Nikolai’s possible relationships, and if I had to pick a ship, it would definitely be Pasha and Vika who I’d want to end up together.
Anyway, less on love, more on magic. This book truly was enchanting, and I loved watching the way that the competition played out between Vika and Nikolai. I loved how the magic was infused into what I assume to be average daily life in Saint Petersburg in 1825, and the way that the city was used in the magic. 
I was very surprised by the ending, but not in a bad way at all. I couldn’t say much about it without giving away the entire plot, but I will say, it is not typical of a YA ending, and I was so happy about that!
So, onto the reasons why I knocked a few stars off my rating. 
Firstly, this book was very slow-paced. I’d find myself reading it, wondering when it would start to pick up from the initial slowness that many novels have, and realised I was already over halfway through. The pace didn’t ruin the book for me in any way, I just wasn’t expecting it.
Secondly, the antagonist. I won’t say much about this to avoid spoilers, but I do think there was a missed opportunity here. There’s a character in the book that I thought would definitely end up being after revenge, but then they just didn’t really do anything? That might happen in the sequel, though.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Crown’s Game – it was a lovely debut, with only a couple of small things that I would have liked to have been different, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.
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Have you read The Crown’s Game? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments!

Love,