Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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5 out of 5 Crooked Stars

This is the 2nd book in the Six of Crows duology – do not read this if you haven’t read the first one. I mean, for reals. Why would you?

I have been so emotionally scarred by books this past weekend, I don’t know how to even anymore.

Falling in love is hard. It’s hard to fall in love with a book, and characters, and a world… because it ends. The last page is all you get. You don’t always get what you want. You don’t always get what you need. The Stones have taught us this. I thought, at different times while reading this, that I might not get what I wanted or what I needed. Just as I was questioning… “where is (insert story element here)” I found that Leigh Bardugo addressed my issue. I was like… where’s the romance? I know they’re busy saving their friends from ruin or damnation, but isn’t there just a little bit o’ lovin’ comin? And bladam! There it is. Then I’m like, well, what about (insert character background/motivation here) and OH MY GOD! It’s like she heard me and knew what I needed and gave it to me.

And I can’t tell you about hardly any of it. Because. Goddamn. Spoilers.

At the end of Six of Crows, our mix of heroes and heroines had been swindled by Van Eck, the merchant from Ketterdam and he had snatched Inej. As a result, life with Kaz Brekker hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. Inej and Kaz are both still torn over their past, but we see much more into Inej’s than previous. She was one of the “exotic” women in a brothel run by a cruel woman. It wasn’t really addressed much in the last book, but this time we know for sure, that yes, she was forced to work as a prostitute. Her feelings for Kaz aren’t easy ones. Where he has trouble touching flesh because of what happened with his brother, Inej gets flashbacks of clients; the stuff they said, the stuff they did, the punishments she endured if she didn’t do what they wanted.  Neither one of them think they can ever be normal, or even be intimate with someone. And I can’t tell you how it worked out. WHICH IS KILLING ME BECAUSE I WANNA TALK ABOUT IT. I loved them together. I loved the way they worked, their friendship… when Kaz wasn’t being a total dick. I can admit he’s a dick. He is one. It’s not really open for discussion. These people do not have good backgrounds. They all have issues. And Inej knows it. He treats her like a tool or an object – but at least he treats everyone that way. An equal opportunity abuser. Ok, I don’t want to call him an abuser – because Inej knows what he is and how he is. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is. He doesn’t pamper anyone. He doesn’t give false promises. I still love him and want him to succeed, and wanted the good in him to come out.  I HAVE KINEJ FEELS, OKAY?

And – confession time: I have a very vengeful spirit. I Love revenge. (You will see love with a capital L a few times in this review). I cannot stand injustice.  I wanna see the devil get his due, and Kaz gave my evil black heart some vengeance. It’s in everything he does. It fuels him. Without it, he can’t operate. And I need that in my literature so I don’t go out into the world and become a super villain.

So getting Inej back is stage one. And it’s pretty. It’s so pretty. It’s Ocean’s Eleven pretty. It doesn’t go flawlessly – as a matter of fact, the backbone of this book is flawless plans that fall apart at first contact with the enemy, then the alternate plans that are scrambled into place. There’s a heist, a rescue, a hostage exchange, stocks, auctions, I mean it’s a plethora of swindles. Just when you think all’s rosey, it turns to shit, and then they have to polish the shit till it shines. There isn’t a moment of slack, but there is still tons of character development. The pacing in this is perfect. The world-building is amazing – we spent a lot of time in the last one tracking through Fjerda, and we learn so much more about Ketterdam and the other gangs that work the city in this one.

When we last we saw Nina, she was fighting the affects of jurda parem, the addictive drug that alters how a Grisha’s powers work. She survived, but the pull of the drug is with her always. Her powers are no longer responding like they should – and every time she uses them, it just awakens the hunger for parem. Then she realizes that her power hasn’t quit working, it’s changed – it’s fundamentally different. And I can’t tell you about it because…spoilers. But Nina’s character development was pretty intense. She really had to dig deep inside herself- and there were moments when she almost gave in and gave up. At the end the situation with her powers wasn’t fully resolved. But at the same time, I don’t think I wanted this one to be all wrapped up in a bow. Matthias is still scowling at everything and trying to help Nina. But they are so different and from such different world views you wonder how on earth they are going to get past them.

Now I get to talk about my little squooshy face. By this, I mean Wylan… who is currently wearing someone else’s face. He still has Kuwei’s features after a parem-fueled Nina tailored him. (In case you’ve lost your place, Kuwei is the son of the man who invented jurda parem.) Jesper was definitely one of my favorite characters last book, and whilst I still love him, it felt like Wylan got a little more story time this go round, and I was very happy. I Love them both and want them to move in together and adopt babies. I was wanting more of their romance, even though when we do get some, it is suitably squooshy, and of course, there’s the whole trying-to-save-Ketterdam-and-the-world-from-the-ravages-of-parem-and-keeping-the-whole-crew-safe-and-in-one-piece thing going on. It couldn’t be all lovey dovey – they got shiz to do. But we get a whole lot more of both of these guys and some amazing backstory and character development.

And finally, I am not just reading Whitey McWhitersons. We have characters described as having dark skin, Asian features, there are differently-abled people, different sized people, and gay people. There is also the fight for people who are looked down on and different to fight for what they want, to find acceptance and to not settle for less just because the world has deemed them unworthy. There are also social issues like prostitution, fetishization, slavery under the guise of indenture, the government doing nothing about that and even profiting from it, child trafficking, and of course, the whole plan to use Grisha (free human beings) as little more than tools to dominate the world for personal gain.

Don’t dominate the world for personal gain, kids.

But do read this book. Read this duology. Falling in love is hard, especially when you know it can’t last forever. But imagine a life without Kaz Brekker , and Inej and Wylan and Jesper in it. It’s not worth living.

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