Series: Six of Crows #1
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on September 27th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
When you can’t beat the odds, change the game.
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.
“Where do you think the money went?” he insisted.
“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.
He shrugged. “They all seem like practical choices.”
It goes without saying that the sequel to Six of Crows was one of my most anticipated releases this year. Crooked Kingdom performed well as a sequel, being the suspenseful and action-packed book I hoped it would be, but unlike with Six of Crows, I experienced issues. Naturally, I adored being back in this world, reuinted with the Dregs, and seeing them cornered but somehow wiggling themselves out of traps. But I could not ignore certain things, which I will address in this review.
Please be aware that this review may contain massive spoilers for Six of Crows and also some minor spoilers for Crooked Kingdom.
Before I lose myself in gushing over my favourite part of the book (the characters!), let me quickly address the book as a complete work. The plot, though noticeably slow in the beginning, excites with tons of suspense, action, and precarious situations. Bardugo does not spare her characters in Crooked Kingdom and, though I wanted to rip my hair out with anxiety and apprehension at times, I love it when fictional beings come out of the corner they were backed into with fists raised, knives drawn, and pistols firing. As you may have heard, there is also an overlap with the Grisha series, which was a clever gambit of Bardugo’s. A point where she failed me, however, was the fantasy element. Bardugo provides only few explanations for certain developments in the magic system, which didn’t satisfy my thirst for comprehension. Other than being convenient for the plot, the supernatural aspects of this story are disappointing. As the storyline takes place in Ketterdam, there is not much additional world-building, either. Nonetheless, Bardugo certainly paints vivid sceneries of dark, gloomy streets and canals, and creates a palpable atmosphere of looming danger. Not even the places thought to be safe are safe in Crooked Kingdom. Where Six of Crows focused mostly on the heist and personal gain, this book weaves webs of political intrigue, power struggles, and betrayal. Crooked Kingdom will undoubtedly have you chew off your fingernails.
And now, let’s move on to my small sons and daughters, to each of whom I will be dedicating a quote. Prepare yourselves.
Kaz. I recall a lot of gushing and swooning where this ruthless, cunning character was involved in Six of Crows. Kaz Brekker is still the charismatic badass I adored so much in the first instalment of this series, and yet his characterisation started to irk me in Crooked Kingdom. I know, you’re probably sitting there with your jaw dropped, but I failed to love Kaz the second time around, because I think Bardugo overdid it. She stretched his abilities too far, to a point where it was no longer fun seeing him outsmart his opponents. Kaz reaches a God-like status in this book, if you ask me. Though Bardugo tries to maintain a balance between success and failure, several situations in this book are resolved too easily, for example with Kaz taking a good guess. And this kid has a lot of good guesses… (View Spoiler »Guess #1: Kaz just randomly happens to realize that he’s sitting opposite the Ravkan king. Just like that, with a snap of his fingers. Guess #2: Kaz correctly assumes that Pekka Rollins has a child and then, again, randomly guesses that it must be a boy, even though he had no proof whatsoever. Had it been a girl, his whole plan would’ve gone up in flames. How convenient). « Hide SpoilerI’m sorry but last I checked, Kaz wasn’t psychic nor did he endanger his crew, his friends, and his love with such a grave gamble such as guessing. While Kaz did still amaze me with his mastermind, the convenience of some of his thoughts (or guesses) and tricks did not elude me. And so, with a heavy heart, I must confess that Kaz is no longer as convincing and believable a trickster as in Six of Crows.
“I don’t hold a grudge. I cradle it. I coddle it. I feed it fine cuts of meat and send it to the best schools. I nurture my grudges, Rollins.”
Inej. Small and ferocious as she is, I have so much love for this character. Inej Ghafa has has suffered a lot in the past, and she endures a little more in Crooked Kingdom. She‘s that character that never gives up, a Suli proverb as comfort or a prayer to her Saints on her lips even in the darkest times. Where Bardugo failed me with a proper introspection of Kaz, she captivated me with glimpses of Inej’s ordeal as a child prostitute and her dream of hunting slavers. When it comes to future plans of the crew members, Inej’s have the most purpose, entailed the most selfless good. Inej outgrows the small shoes of an invisible spider; she grows both as a person and as a crew member, encountering her biggest challenges yet. Inej fights, sneaks, escapes, and outwits with knives drawn and her head held high, and she has never ceased to amaze me.
“We meet fear. We greet the unexpected visitor and listen to what he has to tell us. When fear arrives something is about to happen.”
Jesper. A character who I thought was around merely for his wit and sarcasm in the first instalment, Jesper rose to an important status in Crooked Kingdom (don’t get me wrong though: Sarcasm is my native tongue). He is considerably involved in pushing the plot forward, even if he did so involuntarily in the first book. Bardugo offers some great character development and introspection where this smart-mouthed and multi-layered Zemeni boy is concerned, gaining insight into his past, his addiction, and coming to terms with the Grisha powers he has been so reluctant to use. AND WESPER GIVE ME LIFE, MY DARLINGS.
Wylan looked back at the water. He’d started to think of Jesper as fearless, but maybe being brave didn’t mean unafraid. “You can’t run from this forever.”
Nina. Look, you may think I’m biased because of reasons (*cough* the name *cough*), but Nina is one of the most exciting characters of this series, especially in the sequel. She is a constant source of wit and hope, even in her darkest hours. She is also one of the characters most changed, like Kaz, but for the good. Struggling with severe withdrawal symptoms, Nina is in a constant battle with her body, her doubts, and her fears, and it gave her such depth and a realistic touch that I could not help but love her a little more than I already had. Though she is much changed, she hasn’t lost her spark or her snark, and is heavily responsible for making me adore this series so much.
“I’m saving them for later,” said Nina with a sniff. “And you should not cross me when it comes to sweets.”
Jesper nodded. “She’s like a dessert-hoarding dragon.”
Matthias. A reluctant member of the group in the first book, Matthias has finally settled into his new life as a criminal, and he’s making the very best of it. He still wears his scowl on a daily basis, but he has reached a certain peace with his previously torn self. His determination and conviction were rock-solid. His plans for the future with Nina at his side, whom he would follow anywhere, transformed from a whim to something graspable. Throughout this book, Matthias gradually reaches a new perspective, a new state of mind, as he begins to merge the concept of Grisha powers, which he has not understood and therefore feared, with his own beliefs. View Spoiler »But alas, all his character growth was for naught, because Bardugo killed him off in the most undeserving and anti-climatic way ever, which pisses me off to no end. If she had at least given his death a purpose, I would have understood, but this? I cannot help but think that this character has fallen victim to the shock effect, because if Bardugo had wanted to write a meaningful death, she would have chosen Kaz. End of story. « Hide Spoiler
“Matthias, are you praying?”
“For restraint?” she said sweetly.
“You really are a witch.”
Wylan. He is my small, small son, and must be protected at all costs. Every time this cinnamon roll of a character blushes in this book, you’ll feel your heart expand a little bit. I enjoyed this point of view a lot, because we finally get some insight into his past. This kid has joined the Dregs with an incredibly low self-worth but, with a little appreciation and affection, Wylan grows and grows and grows to be a cunning, confident, and important character in Crooked Kingdom.
“Always hit where the mark isn’t looking,” Wylan had murmured.
“Sweet Ghezen,” said Jesper. “You’ve been thoroughly corrupted.”
You will find an exciting and gripping sequel in Crooked Kingdom, yet it is not without flaws, holes, and gaps. I’ve grown more attached to most of the characters, whereas the dominant one – Kaz – irked me. The plot captivated and tortured me, but some situations were resolved too easily, explanations were on the scarce side, and one event in particular troubled me a great deal. And so, with a heavy heart, I cannot rate this sequel 5 stars as I did its predecessor.