The 1825 Decembrist rebellion is co-opted for the second half of a lavish, Tolstoy-tinged fantasy duology, the sequel to The Crown’s Game (2016).
Vika may now be the Russian Imperial Enchanter, but she cannot overcome her resentment against Pasha, the not-yet-crowned tsesarevich, either for forcing the deadly end of the Crown’s Game or for his autocratic commands. Meanwhile, Nikolai’s sacrifice left him trapped in an enchanted dream, seething with jealousy and despair; unwittingly feeding on dark energy frees him into a shadowy almost-life, plotting bloody vengeance against Pasha, who is his half brother. The operatic plot and outsized passions of the first title skated on the edge of melodrama; this follow- up, however, tips over into trite bathos. Neither the tiresome romantic quadrangle among the all-white characters nor the muddled magical system is improved by prose marred with clunky metaphors and a preference to tell rather than show. Vika’s brash willfulness and Pasha’s feckless insecurity fit poorly with their serious responsibilities; while both mature somewhat into their duties, they continue to value personal inclination over the common good. Worse, the narrative permits Nikolai to indulge his selfish petulance and bitter envy even to the gruesome suffering and death of (literally) thousands.
Readers may well prefer the bittersweet, ambiguous ending of the first volume to this overly pat conclusion. (Fantasy. 12-18)