Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer


Goodreads: Cinder
Series: Lunar Chronicles #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2012


Cinder is the most gifted mechanic in New Beijing–but only because she has a secret. Cinder is a cyborg, and thus considered a second-class citizen. Her stepfamily mistreats her and she must live with the knowledge that society hates and fears her. Then Prince Kai shows up with a mysterious request. He needs the information hidden in a broken android. Suddenly, Cinder is involved in a most unexpected romance–but also embroiled in interplanetary politics.

Star Divider


I first read Cinder years ago, closer to when it was first released. Although Briana–and most of the bookish community–loved it, I was less impressed. While setting a “Cinderella retelling” in a sci-fi setting was original, the rest of the plot seemed more mediocre to me. I liked the book, but not enough to keep reading the series. Ten years later, however, I have given Cinder another chance. While I still do not find the story breathtaking, I did find it engaging enough to keep on reading.

The most interesting aspect of the book, for me, is Cinder’s identity as a cyborg since cyborgs are looked down upon by the rest of society, and even mandated to enter a draft for medical test subjects since their lives are seen as inherently less valuable. This gives the book plenty of room to interrogate societal injustices and civilians’ tacit involvement, while also making Cinder a relatable teen. Though readers may not know what it is to be a cyborg, plenty probably know how it feels to not fit in, to feel awkward in their bodies, and to long for a place where they will be truly accepted as they are. The intersection of Cinder’s identity with the empire’s politics lies at the heart of the story, raising the question of when or if Cinder will choose to start pushing back.

The bulk of the story, however, is really about the romance between the mechanic Cinder and the prince Kai. The prospect of a rags-to-riches story, with Cinder getting back at all those who treated her poorly by finding acceptance among the elite, is probably what has driven the popularity of the “Cinderella” tale over the years. It’s just so satisfying. Even so, I was glad to see that Marissa Meyer subverts this storyline. Though Cinder may have caught the eye of prince, it is not his favor that makes her special. Cinder is strong and remarkable all by herself–and the ending of the book promises to explore this theme more. I enjoyed the prospect the ending laid out of seeing the prince forced to see Cinder as an equal, one whose favor he might just have to earn in order to redeem himself.

Cinder works as a retelling for me because it takes a familiar storyline and does more than move it to a futuristic setting. Rather, it promises to interrogate social injustices and to subvert readers’ expectations from the original story. While I think that Meyer could do a little more to flesh out her world (all the nations seem kind of the same to me), the tech aspects at least give the story some grounding, while also providing a starting point for Meyer to add more original aspects to her retelling. Ultimately, Cinder is a satisfying YA read, and, this time, I will be checking out the sequel.

3 Stars

Cinder & Glass by Melissa de la Cruz

Cinder and Glass book cover


Goodreads: Cinder & Glass
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Giveaway from Penguin
Published: March 8, 2022

Official Summary

1682. The king sends out an invitation to all the maidens in France: their presence is requested at a number of balls and events that will be held in honor of the dashing Prince Louis, who must choose a bride.

Cendrillon de Louvois has more grace, beauty, and charm than anyone else in France. While she was once the darling child of the king’s favorite adviser, her father’s death has turned her into the servant of her stepmother and cruel stepsisters–and at her own chateau, too!

Cendrillon–now called Cinder–manages to evade her stepmother and attend the ball, where she catches the eye of the handsome Prince Louis and his younger brother Auguste.

Even though Cendrillon has an immediate aversion to Louis, and a connection with Auguste, the only way to escape her stepmother is to compete with the other women at court for the Prince’s hand.

Soon, as Cendrillon glows closer to Auguste and dislikes the prince more and more, she will have to decide if she can bear losing the boy she loves in order to leave a life she hates.

Melissa de la Cruz takes a lush, romantic hand to this retold fairy tale classic.

Star Divider


Cinder & Glass strikes me as the type of book I would have enjoyed reading as an actual teen, a time both when the YA market wasn’t as saturated with wildly good, sweeping fantasy as it is now and when my own personal standards for being impressed weren’t so high, purely because I hadn’t read as many books as I have now that I’m older. That is, Cinder & Glass is a perfectly good, serviceable retelling of “Cinderella” that will be a fun, light read for someone who likes “Cinderella” retellings, but it just isn’t particularly memorable and doesn’t add any really original twists to the story.

This is a nice choice for readers wondering where all the “lower YA” has gone, in a market that seems dominated by really dark and mature YA books. If you want a light romance that mostly sticks to kissing and a book that has obstacles and set-backs for the protagonists but that doesn’t delve deep into cruelty, abuse, exploitation, dark magic, etc., then this is definitely a book to look into. It is, truly, simply a retelling of “Cinderella” set in 17th-century France, following the basic storyline one would expect. The main spin-off is that the second half of the book, instead of featuring simply a ball, involves a bit of a “contest” among various women the prince might pick for his wife (imagine something along the lines of The Selection).

I am on the fence about the pacing of the book, however, and whether things like the eligible maiden contest and the romances in general felt rushed. Part of me thinks they are; part of me appreciates a nice YA standalone that just gets the job done and wrapped out, rather than drawing everything out into a dramatic and lengthy trilogy. This is another reason the book reminds me of the YA published when I was a teen myself and why I think it works nicely as a lower YA recommendation.

So . . . this book is fine; my biggest problem is that I don’t have much to say about it beyond that. It fills a niche I think has been left empty in the current YA market for some time, so if you have a job where you recommend books to others, this is worth keeping in mind. If you are personally an avid reader of YA fantasy and retellings, this one is not likely to stand out to you.

3 Stars

Cinderella Is Dead by Kaylnn Bayron

Cinderella Is Dead by Kaylnn Bayron


Goodreads: Cinderella Is Dead
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020


200 years ago, Cinderella married Prince Charming. Now, in her honor, the young maidens of the kingdom must appear each year at the king’s ball, where the men will choose their brides. Those who are not chosen are sentenced to a labor camp. Sixteen-year-old Sophia must attend this year, but she would rather marry her best friend Erin. So, she makes a desperate attempt escape, finding Cinderella’s last descendant in the process. Could it be that the fairy tale they have all been told was never true? This feminist retelling encourages readers to smash the patriarchy and choose their own destiny.

Star Divider


Feminist fairy tales are rather in vogue right now, and Cinderella Is Dead proudly joins their ranks as it presents readers with a world where young women are seen by men as goods they can choose and abuse at will. The story’s darkness is also rather on trend as it becomes immediately apparent that society as a whole has chosen to look the other way as the king encourages the men of his country to select wives like wares at a market, marry them, beat them, and then dispose of them when they want a younger bride. Women are also being forced into labor camps, or sold secretly as apparent sex slaves. The book is not for the faint of heart. Those look for an edgy, feminist fairy tale with a twist, however, will adore Cinderella Is Dead, despite its share of common YA weaknesses.

Admittedly, a story line focused primarily on how awful men are can start to feel a bit oppressive, and, frankly, a bit unfair. The protagonist (Sophia) and her love interest repeatedly emphasize how there are really no good men because even the few who are not horrible wife beaters and murderers do nothing to stop the king and his followers. Sophia’s father, for instance, is presented as decent to his wife and daughter, but, when it comes down to it, he will not support Sophia’s desire to defy the king and run away, because he fears what the king could do to him and to his wife as a result. Sophia has little sympathy for her parents’ fear of being tortured and executed, and ultimately dismisses her father as a weak coward who cannot be a good man because of his apathy. Pretty much every single man in the book is presented either as evil incarnate or guilty by association. It’s a pretty extreme view that may alienate some readers, even if they do want to fight the patriarchy.

If readers do not mind this portrayal, however, the book has plenty of action, romance, and mystery to keep them engaged. Basically, Sophia needs to figure out the truth of the Cinderella story, not the propaganda the crown puts out in order to keep women subservient. This will allow her to identify the king’s weakness and put an end to his rule. It is a bit unbelievable that an untrained girl has plans to end the monarchy in a few days’ time with zero training and no plan, especially when others have tried before her for the past 200 years, but this is a pretty standard plot line in YA fantasy, so I imagine plenty of readers will find no fault here.

Another issue I had with the book is how quickly Sophia turns from being in love with (and wanting to marry) her childhood friend Erin, and desiring to be with her new flame. One look is all it takes for her heart to change sides. Instalove is pretty common in YA books, and I think Cinderella Is Dead is just engaging in a trope many readers clearly find enjoyable–or at least not objectionable enough for them to stop buying books. For myself, however, I wish the romance had had more of a lead-up. It is particularly difficult to sell instalove when you begin a book with the protagonist in love with someone entirely different!

Still, the weaknesses I see inn Cinderella Is Dead are really common in YA books, and many readers do not mind them at all. While they do prevent me from finding the book to be a five star read, I think it has enough originality and fast-paced action to be enjoyable. Readers who enjoy YA fairy tale retellings will want to give this one a try.

3 Stars

So This Is Love by Elizabeth Lim

So This Is Love by Elizabeth Lim


Goodreads: So This Is Love
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: April 7, 2020

Official Summary

What if Cinderella never tried on the glass slipper? Unable to prove that she’s the missing princess, and unable to bear life under Lady Tremaine any longer, Cinderella attempts a fresh start, looking for work at the palace as a seamstress. But when the Grand Duke appoints her to serve under the king’s visiting sister, Cinderella becomes witness to a grand conspiracy to take the king-and the prince-out of power, as well as a longstanding prejudice against fairies, including Cinderella’s own Fairy Godmother. Faced with questions of love and loyalty to the kingdom, Cinderella must find a way to stop the villains of past and present . . . before it’s too late. 

Star Divider


So This Is Love is largely the type of YA I often miss–a feel-good fantasy story where nothing too terrible happens and where what’s most at stake is something in the protagonist’s personal life, not necessarily the fate of the kingdom or the world. The cover art makes the story look dark (I realize this is just the branding of these “What If?” Disney stories), but overall it has the hope and cheer of the original “Cinderella,” even when things are going wrong.

Lim impressively captures the tone of Cinderella herself, writing a character who sounds sweet and sometimes naive, but not in a way that’s off-putting or cloying, She comes into more confidence over the course of the story, of course, and there are some nods to the idea that she couldn’t have really been as happy and chipper being an abused servant as the Disney movie suggests, but I did overall think Lim did a good job of embodying the voice of a Cinderella character.

I have more mixed feelings about the plot. I enjoyed it while it focused on Cinderella and her quests to make a life for herself and to possibly recapture the attention of the prince and see if they really did fall in love the night of the ball. However, this romance and personal journey is mixed with some hints that something larger is going wrong in the kingdom–riots and calls from the peasantry for lower taxes, more representation in government, etc.

The weird part about this is that it all occurs off-page. The story rarely leaves the castle and then it stays in the city directly surrounding the palace. Readers only hear about this social unrest through the character of the Grand Duke–who is not the kind of foppish and silly character portrayed in the Disney movie, but rather a cunning political schemer who thinks peasants having power is scandalous and will be the ruin of the kingdom. This was a tough sell for me simply because I have seen the movie; otherwise, I suppose the character as a plot device (obstacle to Cinderella’s happiness) is fine. However, I did find it odd that the Grand Duke is incredibly worried about riots and social changes that the readers never actually see.

There is a similar subplot about the question of whether magic should be banned in the kingdom–which is also largely discussed as something occurring off-page and not something the readers necessarily have a large investment in, in terms of the main action. This also means there are roughly three major plots going on: Cinderella’s romance, the question of peasants having power, and the question of magic.

In the end, however, I think the book works. It’s a bit like a Disney movie itself–entertaining, never too dark even when Cinderella faces challenges, and…not always as developed as it could be. It’s fund and enjoyable; I just can’t always think too hard about the plot, or it becomes obvious that some parts don’t quite work. I did still like it, and I’m glad I read it.

4 stars

6 Enchanting Retellings of “Cinderella”

Do you love retold fairy tales? Can’t get enough of Cinderella? There are more extensive lives of Cinderella retellings out there, but these are six of the best that we actually recommend!

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Isabelle has never been able to please her mother. She’s too wild. Too ugly. Too opinionated. That hasn’t kept her from trying, though. She’ll cut off her own toes to try to make her mother happy. But the prince isn’t fooled. As blood pools in Cindererlla’s glass slipper, Isabelle is sent away in disgrace. Then chance gives her the opportunity to change her fate, to reclaim the pieces of her heart she’s lost. Isabelle yearns to try. But maybe she’s too bitter and broken to get her own happily-ever-after.  A standout feminist fairy tale retelling featuring a bold heroine and an imaginative world.

smaller star divider

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

A companion book to Princess of the Midnight Ball, this reads as a mixture of fantasy, romance, and mystery.  The protagonist Princess Poppy is not the Cinderella figure, but, rather, the one who takes it upon herself to discover where a serving girl has suddenly been acquiring fancy new clothes.  This gives the story a unique spin other retellings lack.

smaller star divider

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

At birth Ella was cursed by the fairy Lucinda with the gift of obedience. She has to follow any order given by anybody, even if she receives a command that endangers her or others. Determined to gain her freedom, Ella sets out on a journey to find Lucinda and beg her to take back her gift. Rescue, however, may come from a more unexpected quarter. With its spirited heroine, intriguing premise, and heart-wrenching emotion, Ella Enchanted proves a timeless tale that bears repeated readings.  It has rightfully taken a place among the classics of children’s literature.

smaller star divider

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison

This retelling takes inspiration from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to depict Ella as a proponent of labor reform. Coming from “new money,” Ella struggles to find acceptance in her new social class, but also feels drawn to help the working class from which she rose. A modern take on a classic tale.

smaller star divider

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

In this modern retelling, Elle is a geek girl who meets her prince at a con. A cute read meant primarily to be fun, though the book also raises questions about geek culture and what it means to be a “real” fan.  A lively retelling.

smaller star divider

Wayfarer by Lili St. Crow

Ellie Sindar is a powerful charmer, but her stepmother abuses her, forcing her to use her spells for stepmother’s gain.  But when handsome Avery arrives at her school, Ellie begins to dream of a future romance.  Unfortunately, however, her stepmother has dark plans in mind–and Ellie’s soul may be the price.

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly


Goodreads: Stepsister
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2019


Isabelle has never been able to please her mother.  She’s too wild.  Too ugly.  Too opinionated.  That hasn’t kept her from trying, though.  She’ll cut off her own toes to try to make her mother happy.  But the prince isn’t fooled.  As blood pools in Cindererlla’s glass slipper, Isabelle is sent away in disgrace.  And now everyone knows just how terrible she really is.  Then chance gives her the opportunity to change her fate, to reclaim the pieces of her heart she’s lost.  Isabelle yearns to try.  But maybe she’s too bitter and broken to get her own happily-ever-after.

Star Divider


Jennifer Donnelly’s Stepsister will likely be one of the standout YA fantasies of the year.  In it, Donnelly imagines the aftermath of Cinderella’s romance through the eyes of Isabelle, one of her “ugly” stepsisters.  Isabelle may not be as pretty as Cinderlla. And she’s certainly not as sweet.  But Isabelle is strong and smart and hardworking.  And she thinks it’s about time she gets to be happy, too.  In Isabelle, Donnelly gives readers a heroine who is not afraid to stand out or to go after what she wants–even if the world repeatedly tells her “no.”  Stepsister is a fierce, feminist retelling that makes readers rethink what they know of “Cinderella.”

Donnelly’s retelling feels different from the many on the market as she focuses on the experiences, not of Cinderella, but of her stepsisters.  Donnelly does not pretend the two were really nice–they did, after all, treat Cindererlla like dirt.  She does, however, make them sympathetic, first by showing how society set them against each other buy judging their worth based on their looks and their docility, and then by showing how their mother stifled them by forcing them act like the “proper young ladies” they never wanted to be.  Isabelle is angry, resentful, and bitter–and not just at her perfect, beautiful, now fabulously-wealthy stepsister.

The theme of societal expectations runs throughout the book.  And, for the most part, it is a thoughtful look at how the patriarchy harms women.  At times, however, the message becomes heavy-handed, with characters actually making speeches about how women can never find out how strong they are, etc. Fortunately, the story is strong enough to survive these rough moments of dialogue.

The story focuses on quite a bit, not just Isabelle’s survival after Cinderella leaves and the village turns on her once-wealthy family.  There is a war going on, with troops rapidly approaching.  There is a long-lost love.  And there is a quest–a way for Isabelle to be granted her heart’s desire, if only she can be strong and smart enough.  It all makes for a fast-paced, exciting read, one that effortlessly expands the world of Cinderella from a house and a palace, to a kingdom.

Stepsister is sure to please both fans of fairy tales and fans of feminist fantasy.  With its strong protagonist, engrossing storyline, and fast-paced plot, it is sure to be one of the most notable YA fantasies of 2019.

4 stars

Geekerella by Ashley Poston



Goodreads: Geekerella
Series: Starfield #1
Source: Quirk Books for Review
Published: April 4, 2017

Official Summary

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad’s old costume, Elle’s determined to win – unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons – before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake – until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

Star Divider


I love fairy tale retellings, but if you had asked me before I read Geekerella if it were possible for someone to write a take on “Cinderella” that felt fresh, I probably would have said no.  The plot line is so well-known and in some ways so straightforward that I don’t even read a lot of retellings of it anymore; I tend to turn towards more obscure fairy tales.  However Poston’s take on geeky Cinderella who meets her Prince Charming at a con does put a lively twist on the tale, even as it follows the well-worn lines of the story. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun reading a book in a long time.

The book raises some interesting questions about what it means to be a “true fan” of something and explores the good and bad sides of geek culture. I’ve seen some arguments that the premise is absurd because geeks aren’t even outcasts anymore, and while it’s true that geek culture has never been more mainstream, I think it’s important to note here that Elle and her ilk are hardcore fans of the fictional show Starfield.  We’re not talking the type of fan who, say, just really likes The Lord of the Rings or Star Trek. We’re talking about the type of fan who speaks Elvish or can tell you what color earring someone was wearing in in scene 3 of episode 12.  I think these type of fans do still get side-eyed for being a bit weird.

However, ultimately the story is just pure fun, and I don’t think readers should over-think it.  The most common description I’ve seen is “super cute,” and this hits the right note.  So, while parts do read as “unrealistic” (I mean, a teenage fashion designer driving a vegan food truck named the Magic Pumpkin who goes on a badass mission with it, mowing over barriers at a country club does strain credulity), that’s part of the appeal. Geekerella is a crazy, improbable, but amazingly enviable adventure where the geeky girl next door has a chance to nab a movie star boyfriend who shares her geeky interests! So, yeah, cute.

This book will resonate with readers who have ever felt out-of-place or who ever just dreamed of something this unlikely happening to them. “Cinderella” is all about the right circumstances converging to make someone’s life brighter than it had been before, and Poston taps into that to write a compelling take that walks the line between normal high school life and fantasy. Definitely a recommended read from me.

Note: Goodreads tells me this is the first book in a series, but it definitely reads as a standalone. It looks as if book 2 might be a companion book more than a sequel.

4 stars Briana

Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison


Goodreads: Disenchanted
Series: Tyme #2
Source: Library
Published: Oct. 2016


Ella Coach’s mother died while working in a factory and now she wants reform for the labor class.  Unfortunately, her father has remarried and their family is trying to climb the social ladder.  But Ella doesn’t want to be a quint and moon over Prince Dash like every other girl at her new fancy prep school.  Dash is a bit strange, anyway, since the Witch’s curse was removed from him.  He is no longer sure what he wants, now that he is no longer cursed to break hearts.  But it’s probably not social revolution.  Meanwhile, Serge,  a jaded Blue fairy godfather, wonders what it would be like to be able to help the kids who need him, not just the ones who can pay.  And his new apprentice Jasper just might show him the way.


Disenchanted is the modern fairy tale retelling I am pretty sure everyone wants, and it’s strange I have not seen anyone else talking about it.  From it’s protagonist of color to its focus on working conditions and a living wage, it encourages its readers to empathize with others and to think critically about their own world.  And let’s not forget it’s also an engrossing story.

Megan Morrison immediately sets the tone of the story by alluding to Cinderella’s dark skin and bronze curls, but otherwise not making a big deal out of it.  Cinderella is not looked down upon in this world because of her skin color, but rather because her family is “new money.”  Similarly, it’s well-known that a few of the guys are crushing on Prince Dash Charming and hope to marry him.  No one sees this as a problem (except for the fact that Dash is straight) and instead they talk with each other about other romantic prospects that might be more realistic for the boys to attain.  Acceptance is the norm in this world, if you’re not talking about class.

The bulk of the story then focuses on Ella’s desire to reform the working conditions for those who labor in the factories that keep the owners of the Garment District prosperous.  She explains the concept of sick leave to another character, explores the exploitation of cheap child labor, and advocates for doing business only with ethical companies.  She explains in simple terms why poor people remain poor, even when there are two working adults in the home, and the devastating consequences when one member of the household becomes ill–lower income but more bills.

Intertwined with these heavy concerns are the stories of Ella, Dash, and Serge.  Ella is struggling to accept that her money  now has money and she is part of a new social class.  She wants to be with her old friends, but may find that she has new power with which to do good.  Dash, meanwhile, might be falling in love with Ella, but the crown is at risk if he does not placate political forces by courting a more suitable match.  And Serge remembers the days when he thought fairies could make a difference.  Now they work only for clients with money and they often do things that trouble his conscience.  Is reform possible for the Blue Fairies?

In some ways, the book seems inspired by the early 20th century and the Triangle Factory in particular, but it’s impossible not to notice that the story also comments on relevant issues today, such as a living wage.  If you’re looking for a bit of social commentary mixed in with your fairy tale romance, look no farther than Disenchanted.

5 starsKrysta 64

Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West


Goodreads: Kingdom of Ash and Briars
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 2016


When teenager Bristal is tossed into the cursed Water in the Woods, she expects to die. Instead, she emerges as an elicromancer, one of the most powerful magic workers to live in centuries. Yet power comes with a price, and Bristal is soon caught up in a plot of dark elicromancy that could lay waste to an entire kingdom if she fails to make all the right choices.  Threads of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and other classic tales emerge as Bristal fights for her people.


Kingdom of Ash and Briars is one of those books I really, really wanted to like but just couldn’t.  The jacket copy promises Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Mulan, all wrapped up in an overarching “gritty fairy tale gone wrong.”  This sounds excellent, but the way West goes about it is immeasurably disappointing, as none of the fairy tales in the book are given the time they really deserve.

West tries to cram a lot of action into a small space, and the result is extremely bad pacing.  Conflicts are all resolved within pages of being introduced.  There is no development, no suspense.  It’s all quite episodic and choppy.  This applies to some of the fairy tales,  as well.  The Cinderella aspect is a side note of about two chapters.  And, of course, that means characters are not developed either.  There is a of telling and very little showing because there simply is no time for it.  Instalove is a common issue.

[Minor Spoilers Next Paragraph]

Because of this, I was simply never really invested in Bristal or her issues. Of course, Bristal often seems barely invested in her own problems.  For instance, she is whisked away from her home to study magic once she becomes an elicromancer–and home never comes up again.  Apparently she wasn’t really attached to anyone she used to know.  I know she’s an orphan, but she was adopted and ought to have felt some responsibility towards her adoptive mother and any friends she had.  Even weirder, roughly 16 years pass between the start of the novel when Bristal gains her powers and the story proper.  This means Bristal must be roughly 30 years old, yet the book never drops the YA tone or the teenage voice for Bristal herself.  There was a huge disconnect for me here.

Finally, a lot of the story was simply cliche.  This was not because of the references to fairy tales, which could make any retelling “predictable” in some way.  It was simply that everything fit into a neat little pattern of perfection, in ways that are overused in fantasy in particular.  There are times cliches are satisfying, but I found this book just exhausting.

I was really looking forward to Kingdom of Ash and Briars.  I wish I had more good things to say.  Unfortunately, I wanted to DNF about 10 pages in and only finished because I was required to, having agreed to review the book for another site. I have to recommend passing on this one.

2 stars Briana

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

The Crown's GameInformation

Goodreads: The Crown’s Game
Series: The Crown’s Game #1
Source: Library
Published: May 17, 2016

Official Summary

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.


The Crown’s Game has a fascinating premise: two enchanters must duel to the death to determine who will be the next royal enchanter and adviser to the tsar.  Yet a complicated duel becomes even messier when each of the participants decide they don’t want the other one to die.  With undertones of The Night Circus and other beautifully magical books, The Crown’s Game seemed destined to become one of my new favorite books.  Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with the characters, and much of the plot doesn’t make sense, so The Crown’s Game actually was one of my biggest letdowns of 2016.

Possibly one of the most difficult things for an author to achieve is making readers care about their characters, and it’s certainly something Skye struggles with.  Of course I feel bad that Vika or Nikolai is destined to die, but it’s the type of “feeling bad” I’d have for any person in a sad situation.  I did not care about them, or any of the characters,  as individuals.  I’m not entirely sure what Skye could have done to fix this, though I think showing readers more of what was at stake for the characters might have helped.  Of course nobody wants to die, but beyond that, what matters to these characters? What do they lose if they die?  If Skye had shown me more of what makes the characters tick or what they wanted to achieve in life, or shown me who would have been absolutely devastated if they lost and died, I might have cared more.  I needed to feel there would be some emptiness or unfulfilled potential if one of these characters died.

The plot was somewhat more exciting than the characters, but some of it doesn’t quite make sense, and the pacing is off.  There are really two strains of plot going on, and Skye didn’t quite reconcile them.  The book wants to be dire and epic and deep, but it gets sidetracked by frivolous magic and flights of fancy.  And, honestly, if the book had simply embraced frivolity, I think I could have really enjoyed it.

[Slight spoilers this paragraph.] Ostensibly Vika and Nikolai are dueling to the death. Their goal: impress the tsar with their magic and show him they have what it takes to be a royal advisor and also lead a upcoming war.  What do they with their magic instead? Decorate St. Petersburg.  Now, the book goes out of its way to assure readers that Vika and Nikolai are performing stunning, complex, difficult magic, that it takes enormous strength and power and concentration to do something like paint all the houses on a square or make a water fountain in a river.  So, sure, I’ll buy that.  However, this takes place in a world where 1) few people believe in or know anything about magic and 2) the tsar started the Crown’s Game because he fears a looming war.  So 1) probably no one knows whether painting some houses is complex magic or not and 2) it definitely doesn’t have an immediate use in war.  Of course, the book also has to come up with lots of convoluted explanations to help the plot make sense (i.e. no one believes in magic, so the competitors can’t do anything too dangerous or scary). However, this is still stupid because they could have just gone somewhere more isolated, and I think there’s still a way to demonstrate you have warlike abilities that would be more effective than making magical puff pastries.  The enchanters’ training exercises that nobody saw were more to the point than the things they choose to do during the actual competition.

In terms of pacing, the book starts out slowly then goes on a mad dash at the end, complete with the classic “overdone drama between two characters motivated by a seemingly insignificant ‘event.'” I was not really a fan. The book then ends suddenly and kind of assumes readers will be on board for the next one, but I don’t think I will be.

Usually I give 2 stars to books I actively dislike, but I’m giving 2 here instead of 3 mostly because I was just so bored the entire time I was reading it.  I also considered DNF-ing several times, which is also a criterion I use to give lower ratings.  There’s a lot of potential in The Crown’s Game, but it has a bit of an identity crisis over whether it wants to be a book about beautiful magic or a book about war and danger and deceit.  I would have loved a more frivolous take on this, I think, a book that just gloried in aesthetic magic and making St. Petersburg beautiful.  I didn’t really buy all the dire additions to the plot, however.  This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016, so I’m quite sad I felt so let down.

2 stars Briana