Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

3 / 5  stars
Read in March 2020
Book #2 in the Six of Crows duology

When I initially rated this book, I tried to to a fair judge like Randy – not as forgiving as Paula, but not as critical as Simon. I looked for the positives with the hope of giving this book a big thumbs up. But right after I turned the final page, my first inclination was to give Crooked Kingdom a disappointing 2.5 stars.

However, I later decided to raise my rating an extra .5 star for a total of 3 stars solely based on the amount of artistry Leigh Bardugo accomplished in this duology. She masterfully created a spinoff of an original series that felt comfortingly familiar yet refreshingly unique, all centered around a diverse cast of interesting characters. While these characters and many elements of the plot didn’t work for me, Bardugo’s skill alone merits extra credit, especially with the adoring fanbase this duology has amassed.

And with that, let’s get into my thoughts. I may rant a bit because none of my friends have read this series and I have no one to discuss it with, so I hope you’ll add your thoughts in the comments! Heavy spoilers ahead, so please don’t read any further if you don’t want to know what happens in Crooked Kingdom.

I’d like to start by addressing some thoughts from my review of Six of Crows . First, I felt the suspension of disbelief in SoC was incredibly high for me to believe a top gang in a major city was led by children who could successfully pull off a major heist in another country. In CK, the ages of the characters aligned much better with their storylines. A group of street kids fighting against their incompetent gang leader (Per Haskell), a rival group of thugs (Pekka Rollins/The Dime Lions), and one of the city’s most powerful and corrupt corporate bosses (Jan Van Eck)? Much more believable.

And that’s not my only opinion of SoC that flip-flopped in CKI loved the romantic tension throughout SoC, but found the romance weakened in CK rather than becoming stronger. Although I’m a sucker for romance and I know CK isn’t a romance novel, I don’t think it was crazy for me to expect more romance in this book when all six of our main characters were basically paired up with one another by the end of SoC. My favorite romantic relationship in SoC was Nina and Matthias, but since they resolved their complicated love/hate relationship by the end of SoC they seemed to fade into the background in CK. Kaz and Inej were okay (frankly, I think she deserved better than him), and Jesper and Wylan made me squeal with glee, but this book just didn’t engender the same heart-fluttering tension as the first book (okay, except for maybe that Jesper and Wylan kiss). I felt so little romance in this book that by the end I was shipping Alys and her music teacher, Bajan, hoping we’d find out her baby had secretly been his all along!

Because Matthias and Nina faded into the background, I didn’t really feel that broken up when he died. At the beginning of CK I said to myself, If Bardugo chooses to remove the incredibly heavy plot armor from SoC in this book, who would she choose to kill? I easily guessed Matthias. Throughout both books, we never seemed to go as deep into his backstory as the other characters – I wanted to know more about his family whose deaths gave him such a vendetta against Grisha – so he was clearly not as favored by Bardugo; and as far as a redemption arc ending in death, he was an easy candidate after going from a prejudiced boy to an accepting man. I think what also softened the blow of his death for me even more is that he was killed by a random, nameless side character rather than one of the several established big baddies I’d grown to hate. It could’ve easily been Pekka Rollins or even better Jarl Brum who shot Matthias in that alley, and it would have been so much more powerful.

Next, there were a few elements of the plot in this book that came out of nowhere for me and pulled me out of the story. These were elements I’d usually connect with completely different genres/subgenres, and honestly I still don’t quite understand why Bardugo made these choices:

1. A horde of zombies who knocked down fences à la Walking Dead with Nina’s “new powers”.

2. Half-bionic Shu, some with mechanical wings, who somehow made me think of The Terminator and ACOTAR all at once.

3. Dunyasha the assassin, as if we were suddenly in a spy thriller like James Bond. She was only in the book for maybe two chapters, and then she was gone… if there was supposed to be a deeper meaning to her as Inej’s shadow other than to simply heighten the stakes in Inej’s chapters, it clearly went straight over my head like one of her throwing stars.

Last but not least, which might just be my most controversial opinion of this review: I am not a fan of Kaz Brekker. His backstory was heart-wrenching, but as an anti-hero he just did not work for me. All six of our main characters, most of them still children in this book, experienced severe childhood trauma, yet Kaz was the only one void of any truly redeeming qualities. We didn’t get to see him rise the ranks of the Dregs, to witness and understand his ascent from a timid, trusting boy to a brutal gang leader; we were told all of this through exposition. So any attempt for me to truly connect with his ruthlessness didn’t click. In the opening of SoC, he threatened to go after Geels’s innocent girlfriend, Elise; in his final chapter in CK, he took pleasure in threatening Pekka Rollins’s small, innocent son. He enjoyed threatening innocents so often that it didn’t make me see him as a cruel ganglord with a secret heart of gold; it just made me want to slap a “potential-violence-against-small-children-by-our-main-hero” warning on this series. Also, like in SoC, his leg only seemed to bother him when it was convenient for the plot.

My favorite character in this duology was easily Inej. My heart bled for her even more than it did for Kaz, and I nearly cried when she was reunited with her parents. Her story was believable, she could be cunning and ruthless when necessary but was truly a good person who still managed to see the good in the world. In my dreams, the stories of Inej aboard The Wraith go on to rival the legendary tales of Sturmhond as she liberates kidnapped women and puts slavers in their place.

If you’ve read my review up to this point, I want to thank you for taking this journey with me. Again, I’d love to know your thoughts on these books. If you’re wondering whether if I’m still going to watch the Grishaverse as a Netflix series after all this, you’d definitely see my scheming face as I try to think of a way to convince my documentary-loving fiancé to watch it with me as soon as it’s released.

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