About the Book
Sasha Nikolayeva is ballet’s crown princess. But when Sasha lands her most prestigious role yet, she falls prey to a host of disturbing neurological symptoms that threaten to end her career and her very life. As her mind and body deteriorate, Sasha spirals into a nightmare world where beauty and cruelty exist in the same breath and villains rule from the shadows. A dark ballet fantasy that blurs the lines between magic and madness.
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I discovered The Chalice and the Crown via Voracious Readers Only, a service that pairs readers with new and upcoming authors. It’s an email-based and no-obligation email subscription service that provides free books to readers. An email lands in your inbox with a book blurb (and a testimonial or two), and if it whets your appetite you can request a copy. I remember the email for The Chalice and the Crown, back in June 2020, described a dark ballet fantasy. A tale of Swan Lake meets Narnia. I was intrigued.
I’m an avid lover of fantasy stories – my list of books reviewed for Self-Published Fantasy Month alone can attest to that – and I simply adore ballet. Ballet is a performance dance that originated during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century. It’s known for its dramatic flair, storytelling without words and sheer beauty. Although, I didn’t actually see a live ballet performance until late last year. And what a first-show it was. I saw a Winter performance of The Nutcracker by the Russian State Ballet on a local stage. Perched in a small, velvet-covered seat, watching the tale of a child’s toy come to life, took my breath away. Adding the words back into ballet, in the form of a story centred around dance, made me tingle in anticipation.
The Chalice and the Crown also offered up another nugget of temptation in being a portal fantasy that blurs the lines between insanity and magic. Portal fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy where a person is transported from one world to another by some sort of magic. Think wardrobes (Narnia), rabbit holes (Alice in Wonderland) and actual doors (The Ten Thousand Doors). They’re wondrous stories that allow you to escape to somewhere else. And as in Alice in Wonderland, they’re great spaces to explore insanity and imagination.
I read ‘dark ballet fantasy‘ and knew this was the book for me. I eagerly requested a copy and waited.
Let me start by saying this, The Chalice and the Crown is a dark fantasy. The plot contains elements which may be shocking or be triggering, so please do read the content warnings. As always, my review is spoiler-free, but it will touch on these themes. Here are the content warnings: “Although full of magic and love and beautiful things, this work also contains depictions of violence, assault, slavery, family and animal death, and references to sexual and physical abuse. The first half in particular is quite dark.”
Inspired by a dream, The Chalice and the Crown follows Sasha, a Russian ballerina, as she takes the stage in her biggest role yet. As the prima ballerina in a performance of Swan Lake. And then the nightmares start. Nightmarish hallucinations that take her out of her body, and mind, into the body of another in a world she’s never seen before. Her body and mind deteriorating, she struggles to find a way to survive, and maybe even to live.
I have never wanted to fall into a nightmare world more. And that’s a tribute to how impassioned this story is. Reading The Chalice and the Crown over a few sittings was an endless joy. It reinvented dark fantasy for me – a genre I typically avoid – into something luscious, rich and deep. I was as swept away as I was in that live ballet performance.
The Chalice and the Crown is a masterful story of mental decline and the difficulties in our minds. That is a subject I hold close to my heart. I have struggled with mental health issues and always found fantasy as a way to escape. Sasha puts on a pair of ballet shoes and faces the darkness. She is a heroine I came to love: a strong female character with passion, bravery and empathy.
Sasha’s empathy means the story isn’t just about Sasha but her fellow thralls – slaves – suffering in the City of Roses too. The City that is beautiful and sharp-edged. There’s also room for friends – both human and animal – and, of course, ballet. The book is a stunning accomplishment with the right balance of darkness and magic. Blurring dreams and reality, akin to stories like Pan’s Labrinth and Alice in Wonderland.
There’s one word for this book: divine. It’s an expressive and heart-aching tale that is a testament to the human spirit. It is a rose hidden behind thorns that I tore at until my hands bled. When they healed, I came out stronger. A fantasy to escape into, to escape with and to escape out of, if you can.
Velvet Opus was created to highlight books that are, quite simply, a bit magical.
The Chalice and the Crown is just that.
What’s next for Sasha? Velvet Opus Interviews Kassandra Flamouri to find out.
About the Author
Kassandra Flamouri is a Greek writer, musician and pet mom. She is the author of The Chalice and the Crown, a self-published dark fantasy novel. Her newest novel In The Dark Of The Moon has a tentative release date of Fall 2022. Visit her website or find her on Twitter or pictures of her dog on Instagram.
Interviews and more:
✨ Exclusive Interview, Velvet Opus Interviews Kassandra Flamouri.
“For years I’ve wondered why people say dream when what they really mean is wish”
“In the end, it’s a choice. You need to choose to believe that your partner will catch you, or you will never fly”
“Heavy is the head that wears the crown”
And, The Book Extras…
Velvet Opus has the honour of hosting Kassandra Flamouri as its first-ever interview. As a self-published book, it’s also our first-ever Indie Spotlight. She talks writing dark fantasy, self-publishing instead of traditional publishing and about her dog Skye, who has his own Pawsitivity newsletter. Check out Velvet Opus Interviews Kassandra Flamouri.
GIVEAWAY: Thanks to the wonderful Kassandra Flamouri, we have one copy of The Chalice and the Crown to giveaway! To enter, head on over to our Twitter or Facebook pages. Enter before the 28 September 2020 to be in with a chance of winning an eBook or audiobook, of your choice!
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