Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled of 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 loyalties. A war will be waged in the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.
It’s hard to know where to even begin talking about Crooked Kingdom, the obsessively anticipated sequel of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology.
Much like its predecessor, Crooked Kingdom gave me ALL THE FEELINGS. It made me laugh (and it made me sob, but we’re not going to dwell on that…), it got me so invested, I almost dropped the thing on multiple occasions from trying to turn the pages so fast. I threatened my family with bodily harm when they interrupted my reading.
And the ships. Oh my god.
To be totally honest, I veer toward the cynical and have some difficulty engaging with fictional romances (that said, once you have me I am loyal #KlarolineFOREVER*), BUT there was not a single relationship in Crooked Kingdom that I was not 100% invested in.
Jesper and Wylan were my favourite. I got Wylan – not so much in the sense that my dad tried to have me murdered (lol), but in the wallflower way. In the oh god this is terrifying but I hope it never stops sense. I loved how he found himself – and I mean like he found his purpose, his truth – in a place that he never expected to. In a boy he never expected to. Let’s be honest, every quiet person dreams of a brightly dressed hottie exploding into their lives like a car crash but in a sexy way – and that’s what happened when Wylan met Jesper. It was the small touches with which Bardugo wove their relationship that really gave me butterflies. There were momentary looks (eye contact can be sexy, okay?!), fleeting physical contact – when Jesper unwound Wylan’s bag strap on his shoulder? I melted – juxtaposed with Jesper saying something heavy handed and flirtatious, leaving Wylan blushing.
Sigh. LOVED IT.
I think what made the relationships in this book work so well was that every moment was earned. So frequently I read characters who will lay down their lives for one another seemingly on the basis of nothing. I want to feel for them as intensely as they do for each other but there is no grounding for me to do so. In Crooked Kingdom every moment is deserved, and I savoured them all. One of my favourite episodes in the whole book was when Jesper (if it wasn’t obvious already: I LOVE HIM) and Kaz fought. For the entirety of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, Jesper has wanted Kaz’s approval. He’s wanted forgiveness for his screw ups. He’s wanted to be on equal footing. Kaz knows how badly he wants it, and he refuses to give it to him… until he does it by accident and calls Jesper by his dead brother’s name. In that second every difficult moment of their relationship suddenly makes sense and you know exactly the space Jesper occupies in Kaz’s heart (mine could HARDLY TAKE IT).
This whole scene was emblematic to me of Leigh Bardugo’s genius. She has the tension between Kaz and Jesper reach its apex, the revelation of how these boys feel about each other (Kaz stresses about Jesper like he did about his brother! Is it weird that this maybe gave me even more feelings than things that were happening with Inej?) and then completely diffuses the situation with Jesper’s dad telling the crows off like they’re children. It’s an emotional roller coaster and the whole time I was reading it I was thinking how great it must feel to be able to write like this.
Books like the Crows duology remind me why at almost 24 (oh god), I am still an obsessive lover of YA. In Barudgo’s writing there is so much adventure, growth and heart. And, honestly, this book is also comforting in the current political climate. The six crows are all of different ethnicities, religions and political beliefs, and yet they can work together as an almost unstoppable team. They can coexist with their different belief systems and even learn from them. This is no more obvious than in Matthias’ journey to overcome his hatred of the Grisha. When he actually meets the people he has been taught for so long to despise, the lessons of his indoctrination crumble. I was so impressed too, with how Bardugo didn’t pretend that his transformation was complete. Still, even as he acknowledged his love for her, Matthias found those old words like ‘unnatural’ and ‘threat’ rising to the surface as he witnessed Nina’s powers. The difference though, was that, rather than giving into that fear, he viewed it critically before ultimately rejecting it.
Crooked Kingdom is a richly imagined adventure with a cast of characters I physically miss now that I’ve finished reading. It is YA at its finest. I hope everybody reads it.
*loyal in the sense that I trawl TVD spoilers for any sign of a reunion, not that I tell actresses to go die of cancer on Twitter. Those people seriously need to do better.