I’m honored to present one of the many tour stops for the Evelyn Skye’s debut ‘The Crown’s Game’. I was super excited when I heard about this book being published because as you know, I’m a bit of a Russophile and am always super excited about books inspired by Russia. And most of all, because it’s set in my favorite time — Imperial Russia.
So with no more delays, I present you the book and the author:
Title: THE CROWN’S GAME
Author: Evelyn Skye
Release Date: May 17th, 2016
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
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.
Evelyn Skye was once offered a job by the C.I.A., she not-so-secretly wishes she was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and if you challenge her to a pizza-eating contest, she
guarantees she will win. When she isn’t writing, Evelyn can be found chasing her daughter on the playground or sitting on the couch, immersed in a good book and eating way too many cookies. THE CROWN’S GAME is her first novel. Evelyn can be found online at www.evelynskye.com and on Twitter @EvelynSkyeYA.
AND NOW, TO MY FAVORITE PART. Bear my inner history nerd rambling for now.
I volunteered to write a post on the history of St Petersburg, the main setting of the book. A lot of people aren’t aware of it, but St Petersburg was especially designed to be the capital of the Russian Empire, when Peter the Great decided Moscow didn’t look so great for the new image he was trying to build for his country.
Peter the Great ascended to the throne when he was ten years of age, and he had a DREAM. He was done with what he called the ‘barbarity’ of Russia and wanted it to be like Europe, more like Germany and France and the other countries he had visited when he was younger. And to make Russian more European, he started changing absolutely everything.
One of his orders was to build a whole new capital — St Petersburg. Russia’s Empire is an autocratic regime, which basically means the Tsar can do whatever he wants without particular approval of a country, because the Tsar was chosen by God to rule Russia. But Peter didn’t stop there, he changed a great many things. First of all, all men were supposed to cut off their beards. NO BEARDS ALLOWED IN THE PALACE. Beards are for barbarians, and Russian aristocrats and noblemen would act European. That also meant the entire court would have to learn French, and he modernized the Russian alphabet.
Peter was a bit of a radical in all his changes, but he was respected as a Tsar. His Europeanization of Russia was a system all on its own, and it was going to follow western rules. Changes of dress, of royal customs and even building changed because of his vision. Even his name. All Tsars before Peter are known by their Russian names — you might remember Ivan the Terrible, and not John the Terrible (which is good, because John sounds very anticlimatic.) It was the process of a lifetime — and one his descendent, Catherine the Great, continued, building one of the hugest art private collections in her Winter Palace. During his reign he was known as the Tsar of all Russias, and then he decided it was all very boring, and in 1721 decided to crown himself EMPEROR of all Russia. You go, Peter. Four for you.
But while many of the descendants agreed that it was a good change, and it allowed Russia to be a bigger force in commerce and actually be included in a part of Europe — not to mention be an actual Empire –, many Russians disagreed with his changes, claiming Russia isn’t Europe, so why bother trying to be like them? Russians are very proud of being completely themselves, not a part of Asia or Europe, but rather independent and unique. But at the same time, while Peter was trying to build his great nation and promoting it to be its own thing, he still imitated a lot of European styles and recognized that their “way of living” was less barbaric than what they had in Russia up until the moment. Peter, to some extent, agreed — he’d take every idea from Europe, and then make it even better, so they could show Russia was the greatest place IN THE WORLD. Peter didn’t hate everything about Russia, he just hated its insolence, the fat boyards and the general thievery.
Back to St Petersburg, it was inaugurated in 1704, but half of the constructions weren’t really ready, since the plans were always changing. Even in that time, the construction was considered miraculous, which earned St Petersburg the title of “City of Miracles”. The fact was that a great many Russians died while building the city, their bones set deep within the foundations of the city. Peter the Great wasn’t super concerned with the people, but more of the magnificency of his construction. One historian even dared to say that no battle fought in Russia held as many corpses as the construction of St Petersburg. To Peter, it was his Eden — but to Russia, it was just a big old graveyard where people didn’t even get tombstones.
One of the many recognizable features of St Petersburg is the Winter Palace, where the Tsar ruled. Nowadays it’s the Hermitage museum, with many of Catherine’s private collection still on display today. (Side note: if you want to really see how beautiful it is, I recommend the movie “Russian Ark”, which is set inside the Palace and shows a great many Russian important figures). The palace only acquired its features like the blue walls and its magnificence on the reign of Empress Elizabeth, who gave the architect free reign to do with it as he pleased, and he drew the palace in gorgeous barroque style.
Another feature with a rather hilarious story is the biggest avenue of the city, the Nevsky Prospekt, which was supposed to run straight from the Admiralty to the Aleksander Monastery. They made the measurements, and started construction from the two sides of the avenue, meaning for it to meet straight in the middle. The results? Their calculation was actually incorrect and to this day, instead of being COMPLETELY straight, it runs crooked by the mid section where the two roads connected, and now it makes a turn right at the Vosstaniya Square.
St Petersburg features a great many landmarks and historical buildings, including churches, bridges, streets and a bronze statue of its great designer, Peter the Great — the last being comissioned by Catherine and completed in 1782. There was a great ceremony to inaugurate the statue and an invocation was chanted by a priest, telling him to “Rise!” It’s said the statue was so real-like that the tsarevich Paul thought “grandpa might come out of his coffin”, to which a stander-by responded, in a very Russian manner, “Call him for what? What if he answers?”
St Petersburg can be considered more than just a setting to Russians, it’s a city that’s constructed on myths and legends. It was built in the middle of the marshes, in the middle of nowhere, and raised so fast it seemed impossible. On one side, the myth of Peter the Great which fuels it — how he comissioned the city and the construction, made everything ready like he was guided by the hand of God himself. And on the other side, a great many people who condemned the city with all their hearts, one of them Peter’s first wife, Eudoxia, who made sure she told her husband his city was horrible and a deviation of nature, and thus would be condemned forever.
Strangely enough, St Petersburg has been notoriously plagued with giant floods and fires. Floods were caused by the overflow of the Neva River, where the city margins and since it’s foundation, more than THREE HUNDRED floods have been recorded. The most recognized one being in 1824, which inspired Pushkin’s poem ‘The Bronze Horseman’. As for fires, one burned the palace in 1837, and ones that burned half of the city occured between 1736-1737. Such strange coincidences! One of the oldest legends also tells of a kikimora lurking in the church bells of St Basil’s cathedral, which rings when the doom of the city is near. The kikimora supposedly prophetized the end of the city, which would come in flood after flood (as demonstrated in the numbers above, it wasn’t too far from the truth…).
But it’s not just folktales and cursing wives that helped build the Great Myth that is St Petersburg. Of course, even the building of it includes a legend that there was an Eagle soaring in the sky when Peter saw the gulf where the city would be built for the first time (Peter wasn’t actually there. He just pointed it on a map and had his engineer go there and start the construction).The ones who helped build its story are also the great poets and novelists of the Russian Empire.
The first one was Pushkin, especially with his poem “The Bronze Horseman”. The poem tells the story of a poor man whose wife is killed by the flood, and he’s pursued by the statue of Peter (who comes alive) the whole night. It’s a work that questions many of the ethics regarded in the building of the city — is St Petersburg a great construction, or should Peter have left it alone? Is it a city of miracles or a city destined to burn in the fire? Even today, many historians still struggle with the question that Pushkin raised.
Two of Russia’s greatest writers helped build along the myths — Gogól and Dostoievsky. Gogól wasn’t born in Russia, but he believed going to St Petersburg presented a great opportunity. He got the true shock of the poor country girl moving to NY rom-com shock, but much worse. St Peterburg was a cold, unwelcoming city and he hated it there. And he made it sure to write about it so mercilessly, and with such killer descriptions, that St Petersburg acquired worldwide fame of a terrible city, filled with the poor and the dissolute, a city of debauchery. Dostoievsky didn’t help much either with his own portrayal, adding to it the world of murders that we see in ‘Crime and Punishment’. What they both accomplished together was destroying the good reputation of a city and making sure the creation of Peter the Great was seen as nothing if not something to be destroyed ASAP.
Gogol also helped fund the great debate Moscow-St Petersburg. According to it, Moscow represents everything that’s beautiful and truly Russian and familiar, the Third Rome. Whereas St Petersburg represents subverted values, forgetting religion and often compared to a giant octopus (!) sucking on Russia’s lifeblood.
After Peter’s death, St Petersburg was still very far from the center of Western Civilization he was hoping it would be. It took a team effort of many Russian Emperors and Empress – the greatest, pardon the pun, being Catherine – for it to become the great city he first envisioned.
The city’s reputation continued to be the same for many years, until the capital city got changed back into Moscow and under the Soviet regime. In the USSR, St Petersburg was known to be the center of the ‘revolution’, gathering the most insightful and rebellious minds of the communist regime (which often got deported to Siberia, disappeared, etc.) During this time, the myth around the city dissolved once more to become the greatest center of Russian philosophers and thinkers. But that’s a story for another time, since you all noticed I can sit here and write about it forever.
I hope you all liked the crash-course in history of St Petersburg, and that you can see how the city was woven into the setting of the book. And if you all really did enjoy this post and want to read more about the history of the city, I highly recommend Solomon Volkov’s “St Petersburg: A Cultural History”, which is full of great history as well as funny anedoctes.
And here, as promised, is the giveaway for “THE CROWN’S GAME”, which is going to be out in May.
1 winner will receive an ARC of THE CROWN’S GAME. International.