- Crooked Kingdom
- Leigh Bardugo
- Released September 27th 2016
- Sequel to Six of Crows
- 5 stars
Official summary: 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.
“‘I’ve taken knives, bullets, and too many punches to count, all for a little piece of this town,” said Kaz. “This is the city I bled for. And if Ketterdam has taught me anything, it’s that you can always bleed a little more.’”
Some books are written so well that you have no choice but to hang on to every word. Some have characters that are so developed, so entirely real in their flaws, drive, and growth, that you can’t help but laugh or cry or tear at your hair with their every move, wishing you could just talk to them or sometimes just wishing you could be them. Some incorporate so many layers of complexity that you can barely keep up, so many themes that twist together to form a great big punch to your gut because you never knew how fiction could change your world – and your perception of it – so thoroughly.
And then there are those books that have all these qualities, and then some. Crooked Kingdom is one of those books. And then some.
And now to the incoherent rant part of this review (because God knows that I was incoherent to all my friends before, during, and right after I read this masterpiece) where I babble about Leigh Bardugo’s greatness:
1. Her characters are not characters. They’re real people. Trust me. In Six of Crows, there were certain characters that I didn’t feel as attached to as others – Matthias, Nina, and to some extent, Inej. In Crooked Kingdom, I loved every single one of them to death. I loved Matthias’ unwavering loyalty and his endearing obliviousness, Kaz’s infuriating stubbornness to be anything but Dirtyhands, a boy with a plan but no heart, Inej’s decency and otherworldy wisdom amidst all the corruption, Jesper’s endless wit yet vulnerable heart, Nina’s courage to forge on with every fiber of her vibrant, shameless being, and Wylan’s brilliance and fight against the ghosts of his past as he finds his own worth (and can we say Hallelujah for the new chapters told from his POV?). Time and time again, these characters defied everything I wanted them to do/how I wanted them to act, but that’s just another reason why I love them – because Bardugo has truly created people, people with their own hearts, demons, and dispositions. People that grow but still make mistakes, people with dark sides that sometimes outweigh the good. People I can’t help but love.
2. Speaking of love… the romance steps up. I can’t say much for fear of writing a five-page essay on all the beautifully crafted relationships, but let’s just say that, even though there aren’t the fifty billion make-out scenes or overly-romanticized and eloquent proclamations of true love that most “romance” novels have, I have never, ever been as invested in love stories like the ones in this book (okay, except maybe in Eleanor & Park, but that was supposed to be a Great Teenage Love Story). But if you’re looking to live out your love life vicariously through these characters, you’ll have to find a different book – Bardugo writes with incredible restraint in this aspect, staying true to the natures of her band of thieves. You mind find your heart broken more often than mended.
3. It’s one thing to be able to craft a great con story on-screen. It’s a whole other beast to do this with only words. I admit, during the first third of the story, I was terrified that this book would degenerate into a disjointed series of tricks. I could not have been more wrong. Yes, there were tricks, but all of them were purposeful and just as eye-popping as the next. When I thought Bardugo couldn’t get more crafty, she does, weaving in chemistry, history, and magic – but not so much that it ever seems like she’s using magic as an escape route, an excuse to write lazily – into the incredibly grueling, fascinating journey for vengeance, wealth, and pride. What’s more, the technical is always balanced with the personal, every relentless scene of breaking into safes or sparring on tightropes with some backstory or internal reflection from a character. I was never bored, and I always, always wanted to keep reading.
4. Few YA books are able to address current issues and politics as well as Bardugo does. Human trafficking, prostitution, the income gap, governmental corruption, terrorism and global warfare – Bardugo comments on all these hot-button issues, as well as so many others, through her world-building and her character’s personal struggles. Not only do I finish the book speechless and in complete and utter awe, but I also finish the book feeling shaken by the reality of my own world and the need to fix it.
I would be lying if I said there weren’t certain parts that weren’t supercalifragilistic-however that word goes, but those parts were few and VERY far between. Crooked Kingdom far exceeded my expectations, shooting up my list of favorite books all the way up to #1. I think it’s safe to say that this has been the best book I’ve read to date, and will probably be the best for a long while.