book reviews · crooked kingdom · leigh bardugo · six of crows · ya · young adult

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

crooked-kings

“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’s sequel to her Six of Crows duology was one of the most highly anticipated novels of 2016. The expectations were supremely high for this book and Bardugo managed to deliver. I laughed (a lot), I cried (even more) and I gasped and threw my couch cushion against the wall several times.

(warning: mild spoilers — a massive spoiler is also below the star rating)

The novel picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of Six of Crows. Kaz and his gang of ruffians are in hiding after a successful, impossible heist – but are unable to reap the rewards. They spend their days pulling cons, searching for Inej who was kidnapped by the corrupt merchant Jan Van Eck. But a missing team member is not the only problem they have to contend with: rival gangs and warring kingdoms have descended on Ketterdam, willing to kill for the secrets of the drug jurda parem. Kaz and his team hold the answers – and Kerch, Ravka, Fjerda and the Shu are hunting them down. With the fate of four countries resting in their hands, Kaz and his gang must do the impossible … and make sure they get paid.

This novel was everything I wanted and needed in a conclusion. Like all sequels, you can’t help but worry the book won’t live up to the first book. I was so thankful that wasn’t the case here. Bardugo has truly outdone herself with Crooked Kingdom. You can really see the effort and work she put into creating this book: the plot, the writing and the characters all worked together magnificently to create a seamless, wonderful novel.

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

Kaz has slowly become one of my favourite male characters in fiction. His brilliance astounds me and he is always two steps ahead of everyone. I especially love his salty personality: he presents a disinterested façade to the world in order to protect himself, but you can tell he cares for his friends, even if his actions state otherwise. I loved his blossoming relationship with Inej. Both of them have suffered so much in their lives and find it difficult to become intimate with one another, even though they clearly care deeply for each other. I was a little irked that they never kissed, but in a way, I’m glad they didn’t. Mental illness is not something that can be conquered quickly, so Kaz and Inej simply holding hands in a big step for both of them.

“When fear arrives, something is about to happen.” 

Inej is such a badass: her strength and conviction is inspiring to read. She doesn’t allow her life to be dictated by a boy (like so many other YA female characters do). She acknowledges that Kaz is unable to be what she really wants and doesn’t attempt to change or cure him. In fact, she decides to leave Kerch and Kaz behind, in order to pursue her dream. She is definitely one of my favourite female characters. Learning more about Inej’s past and time at the Menergerie was heartbreaking to read, but I am glad it was included. Child abuse is not a topic that is often spoken about in YA fantasy fiction, and I am thankful Bardugo is pioneering this discussion. Bardugo is actually donating 10% of all book sales on her tour to GEMS, an organisation that sets to “empower girls and young women, aged 12-14, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.” For more info, check out the site here.

“You’re better than waffles, Matthias Helvar.”
A small smile curled the Fjerdan’s lips.
“Let’s not say things we don’t mean, my love.”

Nina went through some intense character development in Crooked Kingdom. We left Nina at the conclusion of Six of Crows drug-addled and slowly dying. In Crooked Kingdom, Nina is secretly addicted to jurda parem and cannot even conjure up the barest use of her Heartrender powers. Slowly, Nina’s powers grow and change into something unnatural and unrecognisable, but she learns to adapt and use these new powers. Her relationship with Matthias didn’t progress as much as it did in the first novel, but that was okay as it made way for Matthias’ personal development. In Six of Crows, Matthias was a stereotypical Fjerdan, heartless and pious. Through his friendship with Nina, Matthias learns that all he was taught was a lie and that the Grisha are not godless beings after all. His feelings for Nina were stronger than they were in the first book. Bardugo wrote beautiful, romantic scenes between them and I found myself rereading those scenes and smiling helplessly. (For a massive spoiler on Matthias, see below the star rating.)

“Until this moment, Wylan hadn’t quite understood how much they meant to him. His father would have sneered at these thugs and thieves, a disgraced soldier, a gambler who couldn’t keep out of the red. But they were his first friends, his only friends, and Wylan knew that even if he’d had his pick of a thousand companions, these would have been the people he chose.”

In a novel with several protagonists, it is imperative to incorporate diverse characters. And Bardugo certainly did. Jesper, the lanky, cocky sharpshooter, quickly stole my heart, more so than in the first book. He is addicted to gambling, and originally I thought this vice would be ignored as a character flaw, but Bardugo frequently makes reference to Jesper’s problems. Jesper also has a crush on Wylan, the son of the man who has ruined their lives. Wylan and Jesper’s slow burn romance was sweet to read and I am so happy they finally got together. We are finally introduced to Wylan’s perspective in this book and that just made me fall in love with him more. Wylan’s struggles with his dyslexia were actively addressed, too, and reading about his acceptance warmed my heart. Bardugo’s inclusion of black, LGBT, physically disabled and mentally-ill characters was really encouraging. I hope other YA authors learn from her and follow her example.

The plot was out of this world. After the gang rescues Inej, they still have to contend with four different countries fighting for control of the jurda parem. There are schemes after schemes, double and triple crosses, devious plots and several backup plans. It all just screams Kaz. I can’t imagine how Bardugo kept track of everything: alongside the main plot, there were several character driven plots that all played into the larger storyline. I can’t go into much detail because I don’t want anyone to be spoiled. There are many scenes that you will not see coming and I don’t want to effect anyone’s experience reading this book, which is what happened to me when I read Six of Crows.

sixofcrowscharacters

This is not just a drama- and adventure-fuelled story; there is plenty of comedy in the novel, too. In fact, I think the humour is one of the best aspects of the series. Humour connects the characters to one another and also lightens the dark tone. At the end of the day, the gang are all 18-20 years old. Despite all the hardships that come their way, they all still act their ages and I’m glad for the moments of lightheartedness.

Crooked Kingdom was a fantastic end to a great duology. It ends with a very clear image of where the gang will go and what they will do in their futures. Is it too much to ask that Bardugo writes a few short stories about each character so we can see what they get up to, years later? Pretty please? In the meantime, I’ll be crying into a plate of waffles.

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4.5 stars
Spoilers below

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I was incredibly shocked when Matthias was killed. Of course I suspected that one of the main protagonists would die, but I thought it would at least be in the heat of battle. Matthias’ death came after they had pulled off the impossible: they had tricked Jan Van Eck and saved the day. One of the young drüskelle from the Fjerdan faction decided to take Matthias’ treason into his own hands and attempted to arrest Matthias. Instead, the boy accidentally killed him. There’s a part of me that knows that Matthias’ death will be used to spur Nina on, but I thought the scene just came out of nowhere. His death didn’t move the plot forward or effect anything. I felt as though this wasted Matthias’ potential and all the good he could have done for Fjerda. It was like Bardugo suddenly remembered that not everyone has to have a happy ending and haphazardly killed off a random character. It really contradicted the tone of the rest of the novel, which was structured wonderfully. This is why I am giving this book a 4.5 star rating, as opposed to 5 stars. I realised that I have given all of Bardugo’s books 4.5 stars and I was really hoping Crooked Kingdom would be the first 5 star rating, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Here’s to the next book.
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