Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2)
by Leigh Bardugo
From Goodreads: Welcome to the world of the Grisha.
After pulling off a seemingly impossible heist in the notorious Ice Court, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker feels unstoppable. But life is about to take a dangerous turn—and with friends who are among the deadliest outcasts in Ketterdam city, Kaz is going to need more than luck to survive in this unforgiving underworld.
Note: This review contains spoilers for the first book in this series, Six of Crows, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to skip this review.
“I would have come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”
-Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom
I got on the waitlist for the digital version of Crooked Kingdom shortly after finishing the first book in this series, Six of Crows. That was a few weeks before Crooked Kingdom came out, so the waitlist was long. It finally auto-downloaded to my Nook back in January, which was a lousy time where I was going back and forth between being angry and depressed about world events. I got about halfway through the prologue, which is about a character you’ve never seen before, and just couldn’t go any further.
Strangely, I’m glad for that because it meant that I was in a much better frame of mind when I came back to the book last week. It was still on my wishlist and available, so I downloaded it, blitzed through that prologue, and read the whole book in a few days.
The story picks up right where Six of Crows left off, with Kaz and his gang scrambling to pick up the pieces after being double crossed by the man who hired them to infiltrate the Ice Court in the first book, Van Eck. Inej is still a hostage, and Kaz must figure out a way to free her before Van Eck tortures her while keeping the rest of the gang from being killed or captured.
It doesn’t help that a new, unknown threat is hunting down and kidnapping the Grisha, of which there are three in Kaz’s gang. Add to that the fact that Nina’s Grisha powers are at an all-time low after her use of the parem drug that saved them all in the Ice Court, Jesper’s betrayal of Kaz’s trust when they returned to Ketterdam and the reappearance of a figure from his past, and everyone’s unease with how hard Kaz is driving himself and all the others, and you have a recipe for a potential disaster.
Fortunately, Kaz works best under pressure.
Though Inej’s rescue happens early on and is almost anti-climactic given the buildup to it, it sets the stage for the bulk of the story wherein Kaz plots some more, is outmaneuvered by his old enemy Pekka Rollins, develops new plans, becomes the enemy of the entire city, and does even more scheming. Nina and Matthias are as romantically frustrated and frustrating as before Jesper and Wylan skim the border of being sacchrine sweet together as they try to reconcile their pasts with their present, and Kaz and Inej are still emotionally unable to how to deal with their feelings for each other.
Crooked Kingdom builds on the story that Six of Crows told, but I think it does it better. The characters are more settled in who they are and what their roles are now that the gang is all there and (relatively) comfortable with each other. The backstories that bogged down Six of Crows at times are kept to a minimum in the second book and slip more elegantly into the narrative. They stay at home, too, keeping close to the fascinating city of Ketterdam. The Ice Court was an interesting locale, but I prefer the dark, constantly shifting, Amsterdam/Venice blend that Bardugo has built with Ketterdam. It is, as Inej notes at one point, a rotten city that has become their home regardless of where they began their lives.
Aside from the complicated, dimensional characters, Bardugo’s excellent prose kept me as engaged in the story as much as the plot did, something that’s been a rarity in the YA novels I’ve read in the past few years (which is probably why a lot of the turn me off of them). It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s an action sequence or a quiet moment. In both cases I found phrases that were so beautifully written that I had to go back and read it again. I’ve noted before in conversations with friends that, with series, it seems like some authors or publishers are so intent on getting as much material out as possible that they sacrifice quality in the name of quantity. For myself, I would rather wait longer and end up with a well-written book, than have a new entry in a series every six months. Snarky characters and new magical systems alone do not make a series last. There has to be real foundation beneath all of that, of characters with flaws and strengths, a world that feels true, and writing that successfully blends all the elements together.
I don’t know if Bardugo plans to build upon Kaz’s story. I hope she does. I want to find out if he and Inej can find a way through life together. I want to find out if the Council of Tides will make good on their threats. I want to find out if the Shu will continue hunting down Ketterdam’s Grisha. But mostly I want to read more about Kaz, a dark and fascinating character who is quickly becoming a literary favorite.
“No mourners, no funerals. Another way of saying good luck. But it was something more. A dark wink to the fact that there would be no expensive burials for people like them, no marble markers to remember their names, no wreaths of myrtle and rose.”
-Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom