“No mourners, no funerals. Another way of saying good luck. But it was something more. A dark wink to the fact that there would be no expensive burials for people like them, no marble markers to remember their names, no wreaths of myrtle and rose.” – Leigh Bardugo (Crooked Kingdom, page 266).
Crooked Kingdom has been one of my most anticipated fall releases (along with Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas), so of course I picked it up as soon as it hit shelves. I did, however, force myself to read this one more slowly than I would have liked, simply because I know I’ll be waiting awhile for anything else of this quality, or anything else from Bardugo for that matter. Crooked Kingdom was everything I wanted from the second book in this duology, and then some. As with it’s predecessor, the characters were perfect, and the story was so twisted and unexpected that it was hard to put the book down.
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 badly weakened, 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 the Grisha world.
Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, Wylan and Jesper are back for another battle, another heist, and another daring adventure in Crooked Kingdom – and of course, once again, they’re on the wrong side of the law. Hiding out in the Barrel of Ketterdam, sheltering Kuwei, perhaps the only person who could recreate the jurda parem, the crew is running low on resources and even lower on friends. This won’t stop them though, especially not when it comes the rescuing Inej from their enemies, and from finally getting what is owed to them – their reward for the most daring heist of their lifetime. But their enemies are lining up, and this time its not just Pekka Rollins and rich merchers like Van Eck – there’s whole nations (Ravka, Fjerdan, the Shu, and the like) lining up to take them out and steal Kuwei.
“Has anyone noticed this whole city is looking for us, mad at us, or wants to kill us?”
“So?” said Kaz.
“Well, usually it’s just half the city.” – Leigh Bardugo (Crooked Kingdom)
Unsurprisingly, Crooked Kingdom is essentially non-stop action, but Bardugo doesn’t let that stop her from mixing in plenty of character development, storytelling and world-building (although for those who have read the Grisha Trilogy and Six of Crows, we know how utterly thorough she has been in developing this world already).
As with Six of Crows, Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, Wylan and Jesper are masterfully drawn, each unique in their own way, yet each fitting together to form this team like pieces of a puzzle. With Kaz’s past revealed to the reader (during Six of Crows), yet not his crew, the reader begins to understand more of his motivations – revenge and trauma – which push him forward in his relentless quest for the destruction of Pekka Rollins and in his demeanor as Dirtyhands. This makes his attraction to Inej, evident to all, even more intriguing, as he struggles to overcome his aversion to skin on skin contact in order to pursue something he isn’t willing to give up. For her part, the Wraith is magnificent in this novel, coping with the implications of her imprisonment by Van Eck, and her torture, however brief, as well as her previous struggles – namely the disjointedness between who she currently is and her old Suli values. Inej cares for Kaz as well, and yet, the two dance around one another, each afraid to make a move for fear of what it may lead to, what weakness it may expose them to. Nina and Matthias, on the other hand, have finally accepted their relationship and the weakness that may come with it, following Nina’s near-death encounter with the jurda parem in Six of Crows. Nina actively pursues Matthias, despite her lingering weakness and the problems with her Grisha Corporalki abilities. Matthias, for his part, struggles with his conceptualization of what a relationship with Nina could be, based upon his people’s hate of the Grisha and Fjerdan values. Yet the two work together, and they work well, and as Nina struggles with her newfound abilities to raise the dead, and Matthias struggles to overcome his banishment, they are each other’s rocks, and their relationship is utterly endearing. Perhaps the most individually intriguing characters in Crooked Kingdom are Wylan and Jesper. While their relationship does progress, it is their personal development which is most intriguing. Wylan, as the disgraced son of Van Eck, continues to struggle with his identity – looking like Kuwei can’t help either, but this issue runs far deeper than physical appearance. Wylan struggles to come to terms with his inability to read, his sexuality and his father’s cruelty. The turning point in his tale is the discover of his mother’s fate, which solidifies for Wylan and the reader
There were several moments in this book where I simply stopped reading in awe of the prowess of Bardugo’s writing, especially when it came to the flawlessness of her dialogue. Often, dialogue feels somewhat forced and trivial, yet as a result of the expertise with which Bardugo developed her characters, every moment with them felt true and human. Bardugo’s storytelling proved to be exemplary in this novel, far exceeding her previous work. The story truly drew the reader in, holding onto us through a complex web of secrets and lies that simply couldn’t be left unanswered or not understood.
The so-called “Grisha-verse” continued to grow and become more detailed and interconnected throughout Crooked Kingdom. Bardugo re-introduces old faces while flawlessly building the stories of the characters central to the plot. Furthermore, concepts, characters and cultures from all continents in the “Grisha-verse” were involved in this newest novel, bringing the Shu, Fjerdians, Ravkans and more together in a clash of power. The world of Ketterdam, from the Dregs to the University District, was also built upon quite deftly, introducing more of the city and surrounding area as the central characters go about their tasks.
Overall, Crooked Kingdom is a rarity in that it was equal, if it did not outshine, its predecessor. With utterly human, relatable characters that are written with exceptional poise and detail, and a story which flawlessly builds upon previously introduced plot points while maintaining its complexity, Crooked Kingdom is truly a work of art that cannot be overlooked. Fans of fantasy novels should not pass by this one, or Bardugo’s other works – to do so would be to miss out on a wonderful piece of work that is worth every minute you spend reading it!