Book Review – Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 535
Published: 20th September 2016
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Trigger warnings: Strong violence, sexual references, drug references

Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts 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.

This is a colossus of a sequel that delivers excellence through pure attention to detail and the clarity of seemingly limitless imagination. Told with an ingenuity befitting of her exceptional characters, the author goes another step further in unleashing the full extent of the Grishaverse, while spinning together an engrossing story that just happens to be more complex than ever.

The narrative structure remains the same as in Six Of Crows and it is still unshakeably character-driven, but a notable difference this time around is that there is less emphasis on action scenes and more on world building and the development of sub-plots. This works well, solidifying the reader’s emotional connection to the duology and making the resolution all the more powerful.

Over the course of previous books, the Grishaverse has evolved into an increasingly tangible world and here it reaches new heights, with rich insights into various political structures and customs. It is now so well realised that it is hard not to sit back and admire the work and vision that has gone into creating it, especially when you read about each nation, their peoples and languages.

The story follows on almost immediately from where it left off, with Kaz Brekker and his assembled comrades now having to pull off a rescue act while continuing to protect the one who holds the secret to jurda parem, an addictive stimulant that enhances Grisha power. In their quest for revenge, they aim to bring down merchant councillor Jan van Eck, who it turns out is in league with their most formidable foe of all.

It was a little surprising to see the turn of events at the end of the previous book be resolved so quickly, but there are multiple plot strands in progress at all times and so it ends up fitting in nicely with the direction of the plot. The growth that certain characters undergo is noticeable, and although they occasionally disrupt the flow of the present timeline, the flashbacks are never short of depth and represent fine storytelling.

The pace of the book is actually quite slow for the most part, but it increases sharply towards the end with shorter chapters and higher stakes. The auction made for captivating reading, the battle between Inej and Dunyasha was an enjoyably intense meeting of the minds, and once again the unravelling of each of Kaz’s outrageous schemes are an absolute delight.

There is the regular undercurrent of romance and that is arguably where Kaz is at his most complex as he battles against his feelings towards Inej. In contrast, reading about Jesper and Wylan was at times hilarious, especially when Kuwei was added to the mix. Meanwhile, there is of course no doubt about the love shared by Nina and Matthias, which has a moving conclusion.

Kaz really is something to behold in the way he takes no prisoners and wrong-foots everyone from his closest associates to the reader, yet it is those rare signs of vulnerability that make him even more interesting. To be honest I would have liked that to be explored slightly more, though at least we do finally discover that he is not entirely without a heart.

Along with her unwavering faith, there is a serenity about Inej that makes her my favourite character, and I love her friendship with Nina. We learn much more about Jesper in this book, partly through the introduction of his father, but it is Wylan who is given the most development of all, emerging as a strong and resilient individual who defies the odds.

What makes it even easier to root for Wylan is the treatment he receives at the hands of his father and his resolute determination to fight back. Jan van Eck is a shrewd and dastardly villain who has the misfortune to be pitting his wits against Kaz Brekker, and sadly for him there is only one winner in that particular contest. All the same, it was fun to see him try.

Although they only appear briefly, it was wonderful to see characters from the Shadow And Bone trilogy have a part to play in this book. Sturmhond was as entertaining and enigmatic as ever, while Zoya and Genya were vain and vivacious respectively as one would expect. What was most exciting, however, was seeing them interact with the Crows.

As far as the setting is concerned, this one totally belongs to Ketterdam. There is a map just inside the cover which enables you to form a mental picture of it, and the writing then brings it to life, with atmosphere flowing through the various backstreets as well as all the ships in the harbour. The auction is where it is at its most vibrant, as delegates from the surrounding nations descend upon the city.

All of the main plot strands are tied up at the end, but some of the characters do not receive closure in terms of their storylines. I actually liked this, as it gives the opportunity for them to be revisited in the future and they still have so much to give, like we saw in the recent television adaptation. It is an ideal way to finish a long book and a voluminous duology which rarely falls short of expectations.

Overall, this is not quite the all-consuming whirlwind that is Six Of Crows, but it makes up for it with a measured plot that forms the backdrop for outstanding character development. The humour and the dynamism of the setting all adds to the fun, and that goes up yet another notch when the numerous components of Kaz Brekker’s plans come to light. A very accomplished book.

Six Of Crows was a more exciting read, but where this one excels is in the storytelling and the plot strands involving each character. It is a wonderful second half to a standout duology.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

9 thoughts on “Book Review – Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

  1. Wonderful review, Stephen! I cried rivers of tears at the end of the book 😭
    The story indeed continues in the next part called Nikolai’s duology. To be honest I did not enjoy it and found it quite weak compared to Six of Crows.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a lovely review, it’s amazing how you wove these words together, you really have a gift for writing reviews. I’m very glad you enjoyed this book, I loved this book and this series, and I absolutely agree with everything you said here, though you put it in much better words than I could ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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