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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Book Name: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher(s): Henry Holt and Co.
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Release Date: September 27, 2016

This review contains spoilers for the first book, Six of Crows.

Please read with caution if you have yet to finish the first book.

“Ketterdam is made of monsters. I just happen to have the longest teeth.”

With Crooked Kingdom, the sequel to her outstanding Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo has taken on a nigh impossible task – writing an engaging, multi-POV, multi-book heist series with action and clearly delineated characters aplenty – and make it look easy.

If you love a well-told heist story featuring careful, detail-oriented plotting, Bardugo has you covered. Prefer your books with gunslingers and acrobatic assassins and good, old-fashioned fisticuffs? Crooked Kingdom is for you too. Need quotable one-liners? Intricate worldbuilding? Well-defined characters? Crooked Kingdom offers each in spades.

Bardugo already did most of the heavy lifting with Six of Crows, which introduced us to Kaz Brekker and his gang of misfits and outcasts. For most authors, the challenge of introducing the six primary characters in Kaz’s gang, detailing their backstories, and maintaining a fast-paced adventure yarn might be too much to ask.

But Bardugo handles it masterfully, making each character uniquely likeable. By the time Six of Crows reaches its conclusion, we know and understand Kaz, Inej, Nina, Jesper, Matthias, and Wylan, not only as individuals, but as a group. When Inej is kidnapped near the book’s conclusion, it’s a blow for everyone, especially Kaz. Loyal, dependable Inej had served as a motherly, caring figure for everyone in their gang, providing the shoulder to cry on that the ice-cold, constantly calculating Kaz never could. She was the one character everyone in the gang would go to new lengths to get back, and Kaz’s cold rage was an ominous sign setting up the second book.

In Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo continues the action, pitting Kaz and his gang against Jan Van Eck, the crooked noble and businessman who kidnapped Inej at the conclusion of Six of Crows, and Pekka Rollins, the gang leader who years earlier ran a con that killed Kaz’s brother. The plot is darker than the initial book, but at times it almost feels as though the individual plot points are nothing more than excuses to further explore the deepest recesses of these characters.

How does it affect Kaz to have lost Inej, and to know his enemy has her securely in his grasp? How does it affect Wylan to learn the truth of his mother’s fate? What does it mean for Jesper when his father comes to Ketterdam searching for him? And what does Nina’s incredible new Grisha power mean for everyone?

Each plot point is so intertwined with the characters it’s almost impossible to tell where the plot begins and the character exploration ends. Even the platonic friendships within the gang – such as Inej’s relationships with Nina and Jesper– serve to strengthen the characters and expand their development. At one point late in the book, Wylan calls upon Nina’s bravado, Matthias’ will, Kaz’s focus, Inej’s courage, and the recklessness of Jesper. Somehow, Bardugo incorporates the impact the characters have on one another into each of the gang’s development, allowing them to subtly grow simply from being around one another.

Despite Bardugo’s exceptional fight scenes, which feel downright cinematic at times, it’s the quotability and wit that helps to keep the series fun. In fact, it’s the dialogue and internal monologue that reminds me of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series far more than the fact that the protagonists are thieves.

Some of Bardugo’s lines are silly:

“Have any of you wondered what I did with all the cash Pekka Rollins gave us?”

“Guns?” asked Jesper.

“Ships?” queried Inej.

“Bombs?” suggested Wylan.

“Political bribes?” offered Nina. They all looked at Matthias. “This is where you tell us how awful we are,” she whispered.

While others have a certain poetry to them:

Fear is a phoenix. You can watch it burn a thousand times and still it will return.

Altogether though, it’s Bardugo’s unique blend of it all the pain and sadness of a gang that knows the world cares nothing for their hopes and desires, combined with the dark, ridiculous humor of people who have pitched society’s rules overboard and are looking to make their own that makes the series strangely inspirational. The characters and words and plot twists are all over-the-top dramatic, yet somehow it works because Bardugo roots everything in her characters.

To be honest, I discovered just one disappointment in Crooked Kingdom. One of the recurring lines in the series is, “No mourners, no funerals.” Throughout both books, it signifies the gang’s understanding that if they die, there will be no adoring crowds mourning their passing at an elaborate ceremony – they will simply be piled up with the other corpses of the poor and be burned. Slowly, near the end of the book, I realized this series was never intended to be a trilogy, despite hundreds of fantasy series programming my brain to believe inexplicably that it would be.

Now Random House has announced a two-book deal with Bardugo to write a new series about “a 20-year-old California high school dropout with a criminal past who is mysteriously offered a second chance as a Yale University freshman. Once in New Haven, Alex Stern is charged with monitoring Yale’s secret societies, whose occult activities are revealed to be more sinister than any paranoid fantasy.”

It sounds as though it might be quite a while before Bardugo can return to the world of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. I’ll try not to mourn the absence.


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