Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows #2
Published by Henry Holt BFYR on September 27, 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 546
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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five-stars

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.

It’s safe to say that I’ve anticipated no sequel in 2016 more than Crooked Kingdom. For every bit of anticipation and need, though, there was fear. More than the usual amount of fear I feel coming in to a potentially painful and grisly final book. See, I adored the Grisha trilogy, had every faith the ending would be everything I’d dreamed, but then Ruin & Rising disappointed me almost across the board. No worries, guys. No mourners. No funerals. With Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo, through some sort of fiendish magic, finishes out a duology that is practically perfect in every way.

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In this review, I will have all spoilers within spoiler tags (and I’ll even double/triple check to make sure they’re right, since sometimes I fuck that up). All comments outside of the tags will be more general. I did consider not writing a review because of how little I personally wanted to know going into the book, but you’re all adults and can read or not read as you like, and I wanted to talk about it. So. Here we are. Let’s do this thing.

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Crooked Kingdom not only met my expectations but far exceeded them. When I say this series is practically perfect, I truly mean that. I really can scarcely conceive of how incredible these two books are. Everything’s on point and pitch perfect. Bardugo’s writing alone makes me want to swoon into a little puddle of word-loving goo. Her plotting constantly surprises me, and yet everything’s so seamless, believable, and well set up. Her world, though previously established in the Grisha trilogy, constantly broadens and narrows, showing new cultural details and expanding to parts of the world previously not covered. Somehow, even better than all of that are her characters, all vibrant, realistic, and with complicated backstories. I really don’t know how Bardugo does it, but I hope she keeps doing it.

The plot of Six of Crows reminded me of an even more impressive Ocean’s Eleven, and it was so amazing, as you all probably already know. Crooked Kingdom reminds me of the manga/anime Death Note. From a premise perspective, they sounds really different but both feature massively smart guys heading off in a battle of wits with death on the line. In Crooked Kingdom, it’s more teams facing off with teams, but Death Note has that same level of intense cleverness and twistiness.

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What kills me (in the good, cathartic, inspired tears kind of way) about this crew is how damaged they are. All of them are broken by their pasts in some measure. Kaz wears that damage on the surface with his limp and cane (View Spoiler », but all of them have emotional scars. Like Kaz with his leg, their brokenness doesn’t make them weak; it makes them stronger and reminds them who they are. The reason the Dregs can take on such odds is because they believe in themselves and in each other. I think about these beautiful, strong, brave, vicious kids and I get tree branches in my eyes. Every damn time.

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While I’m talking about Kaz, let me just say that he fucking ruins me throughout this whole book. Bardugo does such an amazing job with his arc in Crooked Kingdom. Kaz has been in, in his own way, running from his past in his focus on vengeance. He turns his pain into pain for others, for those who have hurt him, but at no point does he become a “hero.” Yes, he softens through the series, but Kaz will never be a fluffy kitten; he’ll always be a murder crow. Too often, the darkness in a male love interest gets stripped away via retcon to make him more acceptable to love, but hey we all loved Kaz from the beginning so obviously he didn’t need that. Bardugo doesn’t do that, and, as I said, I think his arc is really amazing. Actually, that’s true of all six of them, but Kaz gave me the most heartbreak, so I chose to focus on him.

Kaz serves as a nice microcosm for the crew as a whole, I think. He’s brought together this crew, and, to a woman, they’re all running from their pasts and all still damaged by their pasts and (as I said) all stronger because of it. They got cut, and rather than dying or giving up, they turned themselves into sharp blades. In Crooked Kingdom, you get some more backstory on all of the crew. What impresses me most is how much characterization Bardugo accomplishes with so little. Given how close I feel to all of these characters, I actually don’t know that much about their childhoods, but she gets so much to you through their behavior and small moments in their conversation, and she doesn’t have to do too many flashbacks to get the reader to understand them.

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Part of me is annoyed that I gave Kaz a paragraph and then rolled everyone else up into one paragraph, but Kaz is a good example of larger points and I think this is about as far as I can go without getting into some spoilers. At this point, I’m going to move into a massive spoiler tag.

THE SPOILER COMMENTARY

View Spoiler »

Leigh Bardugo’s a genius. The Six of Crows duology is one of the best series of all time. Don’t let the fact that this series is a bestseller and for teens let you miss out on something truly excellent. READ THIS SERIES, PEOPLE. I WILL JUST KEEP YELLING UNTIL YOU GIVE IN.

Favorite Quote:

But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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