Title: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Category: YA, Epic fantasy
There is something so immersive and satisfying about Crooked Kingdom. Maybe it’s the fact that Bardugo infuses so much history to this universe of Grisha and Ravkans and Shu and Fjerdans, the most realized world I’ve read in a YA fantasy in a while. Or maybe it’s the fact these characters have so much history themselves: both personal and with each other. Reading this, I felt like whole books could have been written about each and every one of these characters. These individual strengths play off each other to create this great dynamic between attentive worldbuilding that affects these rich and vulnerable characters just as much as the characters affect their world. Both aspects collided once again along with a higher stakes plot that make it standout from other YA fantasy and even its predecessor, Six of Crows.
These characters continue to be layered and dynamic as well. Just as Kaz and his crew are defined by their brutal pasts and their place in the merciless hierarchy of Ketterdam, so they are defined by the ways they overcome their personal demons that have shadowed them from these brutal pasts. In CK, there was an emphasis on Wylan’s, Jesper’s, and Nina’s pasts and their development which I loved so much. Wylan continues to strive for a place to belong despite his father’s best efforts to belittle his existence and to come to terms with his weaknesses like his illiteracy (he is actually too good for this world). Jesper reunites with his father and faces the lies he’s been hiding since he joined Kaz. He also comes to terms with his powers as a Grisha. Nina does as well and gains some awesome (like really awesome) powers along the way. That’s not to say that each character did not get a satisfying resolution. Each had their own moment/finale to find some closure to what they were looking for and felt satisfying (except Kaz in my opinion). I particularly liked Inej’s resolution 😉 These characters are not endearing because of their traumatic pasts so much as their yearning for better things that they have longed for since they were little kids and to see them achieved (or not) was just real cute.
I’m glad the romantic relationships also find their resolutions. However, I was worried because a lot of these romantic moments did not really happen until the latter half of the novel. I wish there were more! It’s a great testament to Bardugo that I rooted for not one, but all three ships in this book. And the reason for that is because Bardugo doesn’t change for example, Kaz’s ruthlessness to be with Inej and vice versa for Inej. There was this one part near the end of the book where Kaz does something for Inej that made me squeal but it didn’t compromise who his character was.
Plotwise, these characters face their biggest challenge yet: to retrieve Inej and destroy Van Eck once and for all. The first half of this book was slow because there was so much planning and not enough execution of that actual planning but the latter half did not disappoint with its nailbiting action scenes and politics and the last 100 pages made all the scheming worthwhile in an epic finale. If you thought Kaz was smart in Six of Crows, this book shows his scheming prowesses like never before. And we get to see some of this scheming with significant cameos from characters in the Grisha trilogy. Definitely a treat for those who read the Grisha trilogy (I only read up to the 2nd book and quit the series but I still got a kick out of it).
I never thought I would try anything Bardugo wrote again as I was disenchanted with the Grisha trilogy but this duology and especially Crooked Kingdom proves that Bardugo has the ability to surprise me and I will now gladly embrace any future book of hers with open arms.
Let me know what you thought of this duology and Crooked Kingdom in particular!