Crooked Kingdom is the second book in Leigh Bardugo’s popular Six of Crows duology, another story line in her world of Grisha which began with the The Grisha Trilogy. In this YA political and paranormal high fantasy, our six crows had just completed an impossible heist only to find betrayal as a reward and one of their own taken in retaliation. Crooked Kingdom hits the ground running, set immediately where Six of Crows left us hanging – with Inej kidnapped and the rest of the crew desperate to get her back. Orion Children’s Books | Kindle Edition | September, 2016 | 536 pp
In Six of Crows, Kaz Brekker, an underground criminal genius and gang leader, was hired for an impossible heist: break a certain Shu scientist out of the Ice Court, an impenetrable fortress. With his hand-selected crew, they managed to pull off the impossible and extract Kuwei Yul-Bo, the son of the Shu scientist responsible for the creation of a drug that could destroy the world. Although they knew the risks of putting Kuwei into the hands of the Kerch councilman who wanted the scientist, the purse was too tempting. But during the exchange of prisoner for ransom, Jan Van Eck betrayed them – he never intended to give them any reward. Kaz had the foresight to prepare for such an event, but Inej was taken hostage by Jan and his crew.
In Crooked Kingdom, Kaz is distraught but determined to make Jan pay and get back his precious Wraith. Although Kaz is a criminal and has done terrible things to climb to his position, there are things he doesn’t do. He doesn’t buy and sell people, he doesn’t attack those without cause, he doesn’t get close to people. Inej, otherwise known as the Wraith, is a foreign-born slave sold into the sex industry and was rescued, in a way, by Kaz. He bought her indenture and trained her as an assassin for his crew. Although he tries to keep his distance, Kaz is in love with her. And when she was taken, he begins to show his cards in a dangerous game.
Kuwei, the character at the center of the controversy, is wanted by all nations. It was his deceased father who created the dangerous drug for Grisha that would enhance their abilities 100 fold and cause deadly addiction. Whichever nation had the recipe could control the Grisha and rule the world through chaos and destruction. Although the real Shu scientist was dead, his son Kuwei is the closest possible link to the recipe. The creation of the drug was an accident and Kuwei wants to be on the right side of the equation. Staying with Kaz and his crew of thugs and thieves is his best bet to staying alive, avoiding captivity, and avoid being part of world/Grisha destruction.
“No mourners. No funerals.”
Laying low in the most feared part of town, Kaz and his crew’s plans become multi-faceted. With every nation and hired henchman looking for Kaz and Kuwei and with Grisha being hunted in the streets, every conceivable problem needs to be faced. Inej needs to be rescued, Jan van Eck needs to be outed and muzzled, and the Grisha need to be protected from being stolen and forced into becoming part of some drug-addled army. But new problems surface including Kaz’s old nemesis, an assassin hired by the enemy and superior to Inej lands on the scene, Nina’s Grisha abilities have changed into something morbid after she survived the drug’s deadly withdrawals, the Fjerdan drüskelle are in town and they are hunting their most wanted traitor Matthias, Jesper’s father shows up at the worst possible time and becomes a target, and it seems Wylan’s late mother is very much alive.
“After all their mad escapes and close calls, he’d started to believe the six of them were somehow charmed, that his guns, Kaz’s brains, Nina’s wit, Inej’s talent, Wylan’s ingenuity, and Matthias’ strength had made them somehow untouchable. They might suffer. They might take their knocks, buy Wylan was right, in the end they were all supposed to be standing.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. Plans change, things get messy, and loose ends are dirty and frayed. But with so much going on, how could we expect everything to be perfectly tied up at the end? We can’t – so go get those tissues.
We have a lot of individual back story in Crooked Kingdom, as we did in Six of Crows. Each character suffers internal conflicts and deep emotional wounds which, in turn, affects their interactions with one another. Kaz and Inej have strong feelings for each other, but neither can stand to be touched or endure any amount of physical intimacy even in the smallest degree. Matthias struggles with his new label as a traitor while Nina struggles with the loss of her once great power. Jesper and Wylan both have major family issues that come to a head.
The story line never falls flat and there’s new excitement on every page. More than that is the writing with lines that gave me pause, such as:
“At last she nodded, the smallest dip of her chin. They returned to the tomb in silence. The willows murmured on.”
As I mentioned above, we don’t get our picture perfect ending. But I would have liked some closure with Nina. Her character simply vanishes, leaving us with broken hearts and minds. She is my favorite character in Kaz’s crew – a chubby, sexy, lovable, hilarious Grisha with major sass. We needed some sort of peace when it comes to Nina, something more than what we got. Perhaps a new short story, Ms. Bardugo?
Although I found the end wanting, I will never regret venturing off on this journey. Crooked Kingdom raises the bar in YA high fantasy by its use of suspenseful and multi-faceted political intrigues and in-depth character backstory. The Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom shouldn’t be missed.