Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo is the sequel to Six of Crows. It takes place in the same universe as her Grisha Series. If you keep reading, expect spoliers for both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.
Crooked Kingdom picks up right were Six of Crows left off. Inej is kidnapped by Van Eck and Kaz is plotting on how to get her and the money back.
The first thing that has to be talked about is the fearless gang leader, Kaz “Dirtyhands” Brekker. Kaz has got to the best example of a sympathetic dark antihero. He isn’t this kind hearted soul wearing a thinly veiled tough exterior. Nor is he this obvious villain that has good looks and a little bit of mystery to compel some heroine to swoon occasionally. Kaz is this complex, brilliant leader that calculates every move as if his whole life is a chess game that is infinite and could end at any moment. Kaz’s plans are even more brilliant than Six of Crows, and I think that is because he has home field advantage. I thought for sure it would be revealed that Nina healed his crippled leg before the effect of her drug high wore off. But that didn’t come to pass. Which also leads to more development of his skin to skin weakness which was so raw and this idea that his crippled leg is his advantage. People don’t look for other weakness, they are obvious. Kaz makes my favorite observation of the book. He’s recalling an old crime wizard that compares a lock to a woman but Kaz is annoyed by it. “Sure a lock was like a woman. It was also like a man and anyone or anything else–if you wanted to understand it, you had to take it apart and see how it worked. If you wanted to master it, you had to learn it so well you could put it back together.” Kaz also reaches and grasps his dreams. He starts he own gang which was no easy feat, it required breaking up with his boss in a public and dangerous display.
This might sound horrible, but I was really hoping that Inej wouldn’t escape by herself. It would have destroyed their crew. Instead, the tension and poison Bardugo created with Inej’s raw fear of having her legs broken thus tossed away by Kaz was so powerful and gut wrenching because the audience can completely get behind that fear. “”He’ll never trade if you break me.”“ You believe that line in your stomach and so does Inej. So she clings harder to escaping Kitterdam and Kaz with lofty visions of being a pirate of pirates. It’s so real. Inej is reunited with her crew in this elegant disaster and escape. She ends up fighting this insane assassin she calls her shadow. For this first time, I see Inej as a dark soul that has a lot to be sorry for, she isn’t just a victim of slavery and prostitution. She has done her own dark deeds.
Which leads us to this relationship between Inej and Kaz. They spurn their feelings for each other. It’s way too complicated and messy for either of them. Inej’s dark fear that Kaz would abandoned her if she was no longer an asset builds this tension that has be addressed. It’s at this point, pretty early in the book, things really change between them. Inej tells Kaz about Van Eck wanting to break her legs and how she convinced him that she’d be a useless pawn for him if he did. Kaz grapples with it too. Finally he says, “”I would 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.”” This has to be the romantic line of either book. It’s not accompanied with any dramatic or physical gestures, but it’s this turning point. That doesn’t mean it’s roses for them afterwards. Kaz forgets her fear of being touched because he’s blinded by his own. Their is suspicion. But really from this point on, there is only reinforcement of their strong relationship. Inej displays unwavering loyalty. Kaz changes her bandages without his gloves. In the end, he spells out exactly how much he loves her, not with stolen kisses or well crafted words. He gives her freedom, her family, and her dreams on silver platter.
Bardugo doesn’t suffer from giving the audience too much information, especially with her characters. She lets them speak, rather than just telling us about them. The only dip in this if I find is with Nina. Nina is this almost trained Grisha solider. She is well educated and speaks a few languages. We are told that she is a fierce warrior, but I forget that sometimes and think of her as the softest one of the bunch. But then I have to take it back because boom, in the midst of street battle for her life she breaks her softness and destroys her would be assailant. Nina is also going through a sort of identity crisis. She is struggling with this new strange and dark power she has, and mourning the power she no longer has.
Matthias was under developed compared to the others and I think that is why he died. Bardugo didn’t bother to give him a future, a purpose beyond the moment. You can see it in the super sugary moments Nina and Matthias share like this: “”You’re better than waffles, Matthias Helvar.” A small smile curled the Fjerdan’s lips. “Let’s not say things we don’t mean, my love.”” I feel like his death was pointless. Not in the random way that sometimes bad things happen and there is nothing you can do about it, but in the let’s kill one of the main characters off kind of way. It was so anticlimactic and it lacked impact. I also thought it might be a sort of symbolic killing. Matthias was this traditional solider type with a streak of naivety and formality about love. His sort of ideas are dead, and so is he. I just sort of boxed him up and put it on the shelf.
Then there is Wylan and Jesper. I really feel like this was their book. These characters are two peas in a pod which strikingly similar obstacles they must over come. Both have pasts that are catching up them and problems with their fathers. They both try to hide their weaknesses, and both are struggling with acceptance. Wylan is rejected by his father, the odd man out in the crew with his upbringing, and even rejected (accidentally) by Jesper at one point. Jesper is also struggling with rejection from Kaz, fear of his father rejecting him, and rejecting himself, by rejecting his Grisha gift. This common thread is really the binding agent.
At one point, Jesper and Inej discuss forgiveness and she says “This action will have no echo.” I wish this was thing in our culture. It has so much more meaning than apologizing. Jesper really takes it to heart and it shows.
Wylan gets all the complexity he lacked in Six of the Crows. He is having a purpose crisis and rightfully so. He doesn’t really belong with Kaz and his group and he’s been completely rejected by his father. You see his toxic relationship with his father both in snippets like “I will treat you no more harshly then the world will. That was his father’s refrain.” and the larger flashbacks like his father attempting his murder. Then the crux of Wylan’s purpose crisis resolving when it’s revealed his mother is alive. Wylan’s vigor is completely changed after that. He’s got this grit about him after that is respectable instead of just feeling pity for him.
I loved this book, it’s obvious from the time I took thinking about it. I want badly to give it 5 out 5 but, I just can’t because there are some glaring things I can’t over look. Leigh Bardugo wove an amazing tale worthy of praise. I wish our journey with Kaz, Inej, and Nina weren’t over. I feel like they especially have so much more to do.
4.5 out of 5 stars. Go ahead, dive and have a good time that will leave you whirling.