Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.
Description taken from Goodreads.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should read this series, my advice would be to quiet your worries, drive to the nearest bookstore or library, and pick up the books. Leigh Bardugo is undoubtedly one of the most talented fantasy writers that I’ve ever read from, and Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom far surpass even her Grisha trilogy. These books are intense, deep, and magical. You can’t trust anyone’s intentions, and you’ll be surprised again and again. I recently made Six of Crows one of my five star picks, and when I did my reread, I was sure that I’d made the right choice. I didn’t love Crooked Kingdom as much as I loved Six of Crows, but the story was still rich and thoughtfully built, and it was a worthy ending to this duology.
The full review does have some spoilers from both books, so if you haven’t read the books yet, don’t read beyond this point :)
One reason (among many) why I love this series as much as I do is because we see the characters fully fleshed out, and then we watch as they’re forced to confront the most fundamental parts to themselves. Bardugo takes all of their prejudices, their preconceptions, their callings, their fears, their faults, and ties every contradiction together to make them grow as people. In Crooked Kingdom,
- Kaz struggles to reconcile his terrible childhood and his loyalty to his brother with his suddenly bright future and his new family
- Inej is forced to determine if she’ll ever be more than a talented former sex slave to herself… and to Kaz
- Matthias must choose between the only cause he has left and the life that saved him but he knows is wrong
- Nina wrestles with the changes in her powers from having taken jurda parem, her allegiance to the Grisha, and her feelings for Matthias
- Jesper needs to prove to himself and to the crew that he’s more than his addictions and impulses, despite having betrayed them at the beginning of it all
- Wylan has to find where he fits in this gang of proper thieves, and determine if he even fits anywhere
Those are the overarching conflicts that each character faces, but they also face smaller trials at every corner that reveal parts of themselves to us. Each of them has reservations against each other (with the exception of Nina and Inej’s friendship) because they’re so different, but they manage to become a team through a common purpose. The character development through the duology is unbelievable, and I loved each and every one of these characters.
As I mentioned in my Mulan Book Tag post, Jesper grew on me a lot over the course of reading Crooked Kingdom, and I also grew to enjoy Wylan’s presence. Neither of them made a huge impact on me in Six of Crows, but their roles make more sense now after having read the second book.
It’s important that, like with Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, the romance isn’t the main focus of these books. If anything, I would go so far as to say that the romance serves more to challenge the characters’ motivations and preconceptions (especially between Matthias and Nina) than to add more to the story. The plot moves along pretty fluidly by itself, each event leading cleverly into the next, and the romance is simply strung along like the part of life that it is. Great examples of what I’m talking about is the major scene when Inej and Kaz kiss and Matthias’ self-conflict when trying to decide between his relationship with Nina and his old life spent hunting her kind.
Despite that, there’s much more of a focus on the romance than there was in Six of Crows, and that comes with two things. The first is the character development and story continuation focus rather than the heist, action, and adventure focus. The second is the slowing of the pace, which is partially a result of the first.
You should go into Crooked Kingdom hoping for all of Bardugo’s trademarks. You should begin by expecting a brilliant, twisted plot, morally gray characters you can’t help but love, at least a dash of politics, and a good amount of action and adventure. However, I would warn you that the style of Crooked Kingdom is very different from the style of Six of Crows. I’d relate it to the way that in THG, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire are more about the games themselves, and Mockingjay is about the politics of it all. Similarly, in the Legend trilogy, Legend is about revenge, soldiers, and conspiracies, Prodigy is about the politics, and Champion is about the relationships between the characters. The goal of the story changes its themes, pacing, and–to some degree–the narration, but not the overarching premise.
Maybe it’s the different style to Crooked Kingdom that throws me off, but the closest I can come to determining why I didn’t love this one as much as the first book is that the plot isn’t as original. It also tends to spin around more than the first book. What I mean by that is the miraculous plans that Kaz comes up with, the daring escapes, they come close to words like ‘cliché’ and ‘unsurprising’ when none of Six of Crows could be described that way. Don’t get me wrong–the plot of this story is still very much original and surprising, but the story noticeably dragged every once in a while.
I need to reread the book again before I can draw concrete conclusions about what it is about Crooked Kingdom that isn’t everything to me, BUT I love these books (I can’t stop posting them on bookstagram!) and I would recommend them to any YA fantasy fan. 4.5 stars.