Where do I even begin? Leigh Bardugo simply blew me away with Crooked Kingdom. If you thought that Six of Crows was good, then this was absolutely brilliant! This was a thrilling conclusion to this duology and I was not ready for it to end.
At the end of Six of Crows, the crew had managed to rescue Kuwei then Jan Van Eck had double-crossed Kaz and kidnapped Inej. Nina was also in a bad place, having consumed Parem to save her friends and then dealing with the consequences of that highly addictive substance. Needless to say that the crew had seen better days.
As with the previous book, this too was from multiple points of view, jumping from one character to the next, thus giving the reader the chance to see things from all the different perspectives while still maintaining enough mystery about the larger plot. The plot itself (or rather Brekker’s scheme) was nothing short of brilliant. There were so many twists and turns and red-herrings that it always kept the reader guessing.
The previous book, gave the reader the impression that Kaz was infallible and this may have led to some readers feeling complacent thinking that Kaz would get away with his friends, well this time, even he got blind-sided and it was an unwelcome reminder that these were just a bunch of kids with no one but themselves to count on. But as with all cornered animals, The Crows came back stronger, meaner and more ruthless than ever.
I love Bardugo‘s world-building. In this series, the city of Ketterdam was so well realised and developed, so detailed and often worked as another important character. Brutal to some and a safe haven for others. A place you could only survive if you had a sharp mind and the willingness to do whatever was necessary to make a place for yourself, unless of course, you were rich, then the city was a decidedly nicer and more comfortable place.
One of the best aspects of this series were the nuanced characters, none of them were perfect but they worth rooting for because the so-called respectable folk were just as morally-bankrupt and deplorable as the criminals, except they operated under the veneer of civility, had better manner and wore better clothes. They used and abused the law set-up in their favour, alternately waving it in the faces of those they had wronged and using its loopholes to get themselves out of tight jams.
Of the crew, I grew to like all of them while liking some a little bit more than the others. I adored Inej and Nina. Inej, the Wraith, kidnapped and at the mercy of Van Eck, she never let herself give up, always coming up with escape plans. She never just sat there expecting to be rescued but she also knew when to retreat and when to press her advantage. And through it all, she never lost her sense of right and wrong, she still held tight to her own code of morals. Fiercely protective of those she called friends. She didn’t settle for half-measures and I loved that she didn’t sell herself short.
Nina was such a source of light, not quite an innocent but still someone who wanted to save and protect her people and others like her. She took parem knowing full-well what the consequences would be, but she did it for her friends. And then, with their help, she finally got over her craving. And it was so refreshing to have an ‘overweight’ character. In an age where body-shaming is rampant and we are always subjecting ourselves unrealistic standards of beauty, it is nothing short of relief and joy to have a character who is overweight and who doesn’t let people shame her for it. She loves herself and the way she is and she doesn’t let anyone make her feel insecure.
One of the best aspects of this series was the friendship between these two amazing ladies, the way they always looked out and stood up for each other. That they relied on and supported each other. It was beautiful.
Matthias has come a long way from where he started at the beginning of Six of Crows. He learned that the Grisha are no different from other people and not the monsters that he had been led to believe and that maybe the Druskelle were not the knights in shining armour that they claimed to be. Despite himself, he came to see himself as part of this ragtag crew, wanting to protect them. His interactions with Nina were brilliant and hilarious, mostly because he was the one blushing. It was cute and funny. I loved that Nina was the bold one. Also, there could be no doubt that they loved each other.
Select the text to see spoiler:
SPOILER: How could Leigh Bardugo do this to us!! How could she kill Matthias!? When he reaches Nina, injured and bleeding and then dies in her arms, just wanting to see her once before he died! It was so brutal and heartbreaking. They had already suffered so much together and then for Nina to realise that there was nothing she could do to help him.. I was so sure that the whole crew would make it, till the very end, I kept hoping that somehow he could be saved but that didn’t happen. It also felt like the Fjedrdans got away with killing him and that felt so unfair and unjust.END SPOILER
We learned more about Jesper this time around. His reckless behaviour and cavalier attitude suddenly made so much sense. His entire life he had been forced to hide that he was Grisha and that it is something to be ashamed of. He had been forced to hide a part of himself and he didn’t even realise that it was eating away at him. I loved his backstory with his mother, Bardugo really did go all out brutal this time.
My only problem with Wylan was that he often seemed too whiney. But that’s ok, he was new to this kind of life and he still hoped that he could get out of it and make a new start for himself. We finally saw what his father did to him and it was far worse than anything I could have imagined. And then to find out about that other thing this his father did, that he lied to Wylan. I liked that Wylan started to stand up for himself. That he saw himself as an important part of the crew, that he may not be able to read but that didn’t make him stupid or useless, there were plenty of things he could to well and they made him an asset not a liability.
Now, we come to Kaz, Dirtyhands himself. I am so glad that Bardugo didn’t suddenly turn him into a nice guy. He was just as ruthless as before but he also took care of those who proved themselves to him. We saw a glimpse of this side of him in Six of Crows but here it was undeniable. He still wasn’t huggable and was more likely to shoot you if you tried. He was what he had to become to survive in the Slats. Not only did he survive, he thrived, made sure that he had power and that no one would ever make him feel helpless again. He took in people that others had overlooked and gave them a place they could belong to. In his own way (and probably without meaning to) he gave these people a sense of purpose that they desperately needed. Case in point, he took in Wylan and gave him odd jobs, a responsibility. Kaz Brekker was wily and ruthless and those who crossed him, did so at their own peril.
I was so happy that we saw some old faces from the Grisha Trilogy, namely Zoya, Genya and Sturmhold and even a passing mention of Tamar. It was like unexpectedly meeting old friends (silly, I know) Zoya was as caustic as ever and Genya, still serene and both so powerful and now they held power in Ravka. Sturmhold was also fun and I was happy that he had not lost his way with words.
Jan Van Eck was one of the more infuriating antagonists I have had the displeasure of coming across. He was so vile and deplorable and it was gratifying to see him destroyed so thoroughly.
Crooked Kingdom was every bit as amazing as I had hoped it would be. It was a fitting end exceptionally well written but I can’t help but hope that we see a little more of Nina. I want her to come to back to the crew, her family. Spend time with Inej and go hunting for slavers together. I need to see her happy or at least with some semblance of happiness. It just felt really unfair for her to go through what she did. Still I loved Crooked Kingdom and can’t recommend it enough.