“The Crown’s Game” in Imperial Russia

I was surprised when I read the premise of The Crown’s Game at how similar it sounded to a book I read a couple of months ago called The Night Circus (see review here). I loved The Night Circus and I was interested, and a bit worried, to see how The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye would compare.

My verdict is this: The Crown’s Game is much too-familar if you have read The Night Circus, but you will still find an enjoyable story that interweaves new elements into setting, character, and plot. It felt like a younger version of The Night Circus with a heavier emphasis on character relationships.

In The Crown’s Game, two enchanters, Nikolai and Vika, are pitted against each other in a deadly game to see who will be the Tsar’s Imperial Enchanter. As the two young enchanter’s try to outdo the other in magical feats, they find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other even as they fight to the death.

I loved the premise of course, but I also enjoyed the elements I wasn’t expecting. The setting in particular was something that set it apart as excellent. I loved the idea of placing a magic duel in Imperial Russia. The magic fit perfectly into an alternate and idealized version of such a place. It provided just enough newness to the story that I was held in wonder for the magical place Skye had created that was so new to me.

I loved the magical elements, and the characters too. Unlike Morgenstern’s The Night CircusThe Crown’s Game delved more deeply into helping the reader get to know the main characters. I loved the relationships between said characters and the attention Skye paid to help the reader feel, and not just observe, the love, jealousy, friendship, and disgust between them.

There was no clear villain in this story, something else that I enjoyed. I find that some of the best stories are like life: they are complicated, messy, and have no true villains. Instead, every person has elements of good and bad, and cycle somewhere in-between, often in shades of gray.

While I am disappointed that The Crown’s Game was so similar to something I’d just read (and I do prefer The Night Circus overall), I was pleased with the execution of this story in the YA fantasy genre with a rating of 8/10.

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Immigration and Loss in “The Last Days of Café Leila” by Donia Bijan

I picked up The Last Days of Café Leila by Donna Bijan based on a hope to find something engaging, well-written, and mature but clean. I was in need of a change of pace from the last couple of YA books I’d just finished. So, skimming the new part of the adult section at the library (while also trying to keep my toddler from pulling down shelves of books) I picked up this one, read the back, found out it partly took place in Tehran, and brought it home.

Since my senior year of college when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, a book that has forever changed my life, I have been especially interested by the middle east, and most especially Iran.

The main character of this book grew up in Iran, and then attended college in the United States and is living there when the book begins. As an immigrant to the US, Noor holds on to some of her family’s culture she has left behind, but also becomes thoroughly westernized in her ideals, way of living, and expectations of life.

Consequentially, when Noor returns to Iran with her US-born daughter Lily to visit Noor’s father after discovering her husband’s infidelity, she sees Iran with new eyes: the perfect lens for an American reader.

As Noor quickly sinks back into her childhood role, Lily struggles to transition to a new culture and environment, and their mother-daughter relationship is brought to an all-time low. As Noor attempts to salvage their relationship, she discovers the importance of standing your ground not only as a parent, but as an individual.

The Last Days of Café Leila is predominantly a story of family with underlying political undertones. While Noor and her father rekindle their relationship, we are brought to feel the tragic loss of beauty and common decency in the recovery stages of revolution.

These political undertones brought depth to this family drama, grounding the story in a very real setting.

While this book definitely had a pro-western bias, the fundamental themes of insecurity, the messiness of life, the difficulties of immigration and assimilation, and ultimately the sacrifice needed to achieve self-actualization were powerful.

This book consumed me until I had read every page. And while I loved the prose, I did feel that the ending left something to be desired. Ultimately, I would rate it a 7/10. I would recommend The Last Days of Café Leila, but I won’t be adding it to my personal collection.

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SPOILERS AHEAD!

Continue reading “Immigration and Loss in “The Last Days of Café Leila” by Donia Bijan”

YA Fiction from Germany: “The Book Jumper”

I picked up The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser on a whim while at the library. Honestly, that’s how I find most of my books with varying results. In this case, I was thoroughly pleased. A book about living in books was just what I wanted to read.

An award-winning German author, Gläser makes her debut into English readership with The Book Jumper, a book about a girl who discovers that she can jump into books and interact with the stories and characters. As she learns more about her unusual ability, she also discovers that someone is stealing from the stories she visits, damaging and changing beloved classics such as Alice in WonderlandPride and Prejudice, and The Wizard of Oz.

Perfect for anyone who loves reading, has felt ostracized or betrayed by someone they love, or loves reading books set in Scotland with romantic sub-plots, this book is a solid 8/10 in my mind. Gläser beautifully imitates characters canonized in time like Sherlock Holmes, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland and I loved how many famous books Gläser incorporated into The Book Jumper.

While reading it was a fantastic journey that I wish I had written myself, I have to say I was not satisfied with the ending. It felt too easy and too predictable. Such an amazing story deserved an amazing ending. Instead, we got an okay ending. Which was . . . okay.

Overall, this is a book I would love to add to my collection. It felt fresh, vibrant, and yet so familiar (what book-worm doesn’t feel at home in a book about books?). And I loved the characters, the adventures and the setting. It is definitely a book I could see myself reading again as soon as I add it to my own little library.

 

 

Garth Nix’s Fairytale Cliché “Frogkisser!”

I first discovered Garth Nix with his Old Kingdom Trilogy (SabrielLiraelAbhorsen), and found that he had a distinct flavor to his books that I found alluring and intelligent. While I thoroughly enjoyed the Old Kingdom Trilogy, I never got into any of his other series or novels, perhaps due to Nix’s focus on story and lack of complex character dynamics.

So when I picked up his latest novel Frogkisser! I was unsurprised to find these same traits inherent throughout the story. Despite somewhat flat characters and a distant tone, I found this book charming and enjoyable. In fact, his use of uninteresting characters helped create a cohesive tone throughout the book. It felt like reading a drawn-out, very detailed, comical children’s fairytale.

Let me preface my review with this warning: do not take this book too seriously. It is sometimes slow, and silly, and definitely a just-for-fun read. Nix took fairytale clichés and used them in particularly obvious ways that poked fun at more traditional uses. I loved the reasons Nix gave for the evil sorcerer clichéd cackle, the use of Quests (v. quests), the retelling of Snow White (not a princess), and the beautiful and hilarious portrayal of dogs.

Dogs play a huge role in this book, both in plot and character, and really help to drive the story forward and bring life to the pages. Nix captured all the lovable, infuriating, and odd characteristics of man’s best friend, and anyone that is a dog-lover or even likes dogs a little bit, will find themselves giggling at Ardent and the other royal dogs through to the end.

While this book begins quite slowly, it picks up about three-quarters of the way through, and ends quite decently. Personally, I think it would be ideal for reading aloud (lots of fun voices to do). Younger children, and adults will love the comical fairytale world Nix has created, I know I did, and I hope to see more like this from him in the future!