Evelyn Skye Interview
Evelyn Skye’s hotly-anticipated debut, The Crown’s Game, is due out in the spring.
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.
With a synopsis like that, it’s not really a surprise that there’s a buzz of excitement surrounding Skye’s YA fantasy debut.
ES: It is such an honour to be here on Fantasy Faction. Thank you for having me!
So, who is Evelyn Skye and what’s she likely to be doing on a rainy Tuesday in March?
ES: On any rainy day, I’m likely to be curled up on my couch reading and eating cookies I shouldn’t be eating. Or sitting at my kitchen table, writing my next book (and of course, eating cookies I shouldn’t be eating.)
Salty or sweet?
ES: Sweet for sure! I have a ridiculous sweet tooth. I mean, I’ve already mentioned cookies twice, and we’ve only just begun this interview!
Cats or dogs?
ES: As for cats or dogs, the answer is both! As a child, I always wanted a puppy–one of those great, beautiful Samoyeds. (I never got one, sadly.) My daughter has an adorable black kitten at her dad’s house. I did also own a snake once, for all of 2 hours before my mom find out I’d bought it and brought it home…she made me take it straight back to the pet store.
Sword or lightsabre?
ES: You really shouldn’t trust me with a weapon.
(And what was the job with the C.I.A?!)
ES: If I told you, I’d have to kill you…and that would be a shame, since we still have more of this interview to do!
What about a Russian setting talks to the writer in you?
ES: I fell in love with Russia when I read Brothers Karamazov in high school. It’s a country with so much depth, history, and personality, it’s as if it were a character all its own. Brothers Karamazov is gorgeously brooding, and reading it led me to study Russian literature and history when I went to Stanford. It was through Pushkin and Tolstoy and Turgenev (and yes, more Dostoevsky) that I fell irretrievably in love with the Russian soul.
I’m a generally happy and optimistic person, but I think even the most cheerful of us still harbour a secret darkness in our hearts, and classic Russian literature (and the bleak landscapes of Russian winters) spoke to that part of me and never released its hold.
How much of The Crown’s Game is pure historical fancy? It’s an alternate Russia, but what kind of stage does that give us?
ES: I like to think The Crown’s Game draws on history in a way similar to how Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy (and the entire His Fair Assassin series) does—based on real history but consciously altered when the magic of the story calls for it.
I love 19th century Imperial Russia, and I am so thrilled I get the opportunity to write about it. Many people know about the end of the Romanov dynasty (Anastasia, Rasputin, the Bolshevik Revolution, etc.), but most don’t know about the Romanovs before that time. I wanted to bring that era to life.
The Crown’s Game is set in the autumn of 1825, and many of the characters and events both in this book and the sequel (which I’m working on) are historically accurate. I tried to reflect the geopolitical tensions of the time, such as the conflicts between Russia and the Ottomans and Russia and the Kazakhs. Also, Tsar Alexander I and his wife, Elizabeth, were very real.
That said, I made up a lot, too. This is definitely a fantasy first; it’s not historical fiction. For example, one of the main characters, Pasha, and his sister, are products of my imagination. They’re the tsesarevich (crown prince) and princess of Russia, but in reality, the tsar and tsarina’s children actually died in infancy.
For those history buffs out there, though, I’ve included an Author’s Note at the end of the book which touches briefly on the differences between what really happened in Russia and what I created.
How did The Crown’s Game come to be? What caused the little seed of an idea from which the book grew?
ES: This is an excellent question! I think the seeds had been germinating for years, dating back to my very first taste of Russian literature in high school. I suspect I had to be ready to tell the story, though, and that meant I needed to write eight other failed manuscripts before I was worthy of giving Vika, Nikolai and Pasha’s story a shot.
But once I began writing it, The Crown’s Game just tumbled out of me. I wrote the first draft in 36 feverish days; my fingers could hardly keep up with the words that wanted to get onto the page.
When I finished that draft, I just knew that this was The One. This was the story I was meant to tell. It had only been waiting for the right moment.
Were there any notable influences when writing The Crown’s Game?
ES: Robin LaFever’s Grave Mercy. Why? Well, I’d been writing realistic, contemporary stories for years. I didn’t think I could do something like fantasy; world-building was utterly intimidating. Then this idea for The Crown’s Game appeared, and I wanted badly to write it, but I didn’t know how to go about writing a fantasy that was also based on real history. I actually almost quit writing altogether around that time, because I hadn’t been able to sell any of my manuscripts. Then I read Grave Mercy, and a light bulb went off in my head. Grave Mercy showed me fantasy layered on top of history in a way I didn’t know existed, and I realized that this crazy idea I had about a pair of duelling enchanters in Imperial Russia was not-so-crazy after all!
I decided I’d give myself one more shot. I’d write Vika and Nikolai’s story, and if I sold it, then I would keep on writing! And if not, then…I didn’t know what I’d do, but I would’ve at least given this last idea a chance.
Happily for me, The Crown’s Game was exactly what I needed. And I am indebted to Robin LaFevers and Grave Mercy for showing me the way.
Who has been your favourite character to write? Who was the hardest to write? Why these characters in particular?
ES: It would be impossible to choose a favourite! But I can answer whom was easier and harder to write.
Nikolai came easily to me. I knew who he was from the very start; I identify with him the most, so I could read his soul pretty clearly. (My friends would all say I’m too smiley and cheerful to be Nikolai, but he and I share a dark, quiet quintessence—for him it’s on the outside, for me, it’s buried inside, for only a few to see.)
Vika was often harder for me to write. She is wild and fearless, and I am not, so I had to channel other people I knew in order to get Vika right. But just because she was more difficult to write doesn’t mean I love her any less. I love all of my characters fiercely, just like a mother loves all of her babies, no matter how challenging they may be.
If Vika and Nikolai attended a costume ball, what costumes would they both wear? Any significance in these choices?
ES: In fact, there is a costume ball in the book! To avoid spoilers, I won’t say much except their costumes reflect their personalities and their magic. And it was one of my favorite scenes to write!
Imagine the cast exist in our world, in the year 2016—what would they be doing? What would their Twitter feeds look like? How would their Saturdays be spent?
ES: Vika would tweet constantly. She would be bold with her opinions, and always smart, sharp, witty. She would probably have a very small but tight group of girlfriends, and Saturday nights would be spent on some mischief, perhaps playing pranks on cute boys with the help of Vika’s magic.
Nikolai would never tweet. He might have an account because Pasha told him he ought to, but Nikolai would never go on twitter. Too undignified. He’d spend Saturday hunched over his desk, working on a magical challenge from Galina, or a project of his own creation. In the evening, he’d be at a ball, dancing with all the prettiest debutantes in Saint Petersburg, or at The Magpie and The Fox (a tavern) with Pasha.
Pasha would have an official imperial twitter account, and even though he would personally love to tweet from it, the Tsar would have someone managing Pasha’s account to make sure that everything “he” said was appropriate and in line with palace policy and protocol, not to mention the empire’s political and economic strategies. As for Saturday night, he’d be sneaking out of the Winter Palace and doing something with Nikolai, be it drinking at The Magpie and The Fox or playing cards on the docks with the fishermen or charming girls at a nobleman’s ball.
We would like to thank Ms. Skye again for stopping by today. The Crown’s Game is due out on May 17, 2016 in the US and June 30, 2016 in the UK. You can learn more about it on her webpage or follow her on Twitter @EvelynSkyeYA.