I have been wrecked, robbed of all sorts of things, and I should have expected this because the entire book is about THIEVES. But seriously, my emotions have gone haywire, and I am utterly hoping this is not the end of the stories coming from the Crows. Because I am SO DEEPLY ATTACHED I cannot even fathom saying goodbye or letting go just yet.
Ugh. WRECKED, I tell you.
Spoiler Alert: This is the second book of the Six of Crows duology. And while I try to be spoiler-free in most of my reviews, I am DEFINITELY not promising that in this case. So be forewarned. Spoilers galore!
by Leigh Bardugo
Henry Holt and Co., September 2016
YA Fantasy, Adventure
Rated: 5 / 5 cookies
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.
Welcome to the world of the Grisha.
I’ve been trying to work my way around writing this review, but every time I tried, the wounds Leigh Bardugo inflicted on my callous, disillusioned heart opened up again and I found myself weeping over the thought of going back to the scenes I loved. And if that wasn’t enough, then I started weeping over the quotes and re-reading that ending, and I just wanted to curl back up and die a little bit.
Crooked Kingdom had me WRECKED. I’m suffering from a book hangover as bad as I did after finishing A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (honestly, I’m still not ready to unpack my love for that, despite having written a review already). I’ve picked up and put down so many of my other reads because I still can’t get over this book in particular. I’m probably up there with all the other SoC stans when I agree that this book has got to be one of the best that YA fantasy has to offer. And this is saying a lot.
The book picks up a few days after the cliffhanger ending of Six of Crows. In SoC, Kaz and his crew of six just emerge from the impossible heist at the Fjerdan Ice Court and are on their way to getting the score of a lifetime. Unfortunately, as it is in Ketterdam, they get betrayed, and not only that, but one small mistake, and Inej gets taken as a hostage. Knowing what we know about Kaz at this point, he’s on an actual warpath. Nobody–and seriously, nobody–messes with his Wraith.
On top of that, Jesper’s father somehow manages to make his way to Ketterdam from Novyi Zem, and all manner of hilarity ensues in the middle of this crisis. Add that to the ever-increasing chaos of several nations entering Ketterdam in hopes of buying the one scientist with the knowledge to create jurda parem–who also happens to have been kidnapped/rescued/extracted by the Crows. And on top of that, we have poor Nina dealing with the aftermath of having taken jurda parem. This proves to open up new avenues of her skill as a Heartrender, but at a huge cost.
“Where do you think the money went?” he repeated.
“Guns?” asked Jesper.
“Ships?” queried Inej.
“Bombs?” suggested Wylan.
“Political bribes?” offered Nina. They all looked at Matthias. “This is where you tell us how awful we are,” she whispered.
He shrugged. “They all seem like practical choices.”
But see, this is what I think Bardugo did absolutely fabulously in this duology: she made each of the diverse characters endearing and likeable. Every one of them had some kind of background that enables so much relatability for someone out there, and we all start to develop our preferences over who our favorites are. Wylan is brilliant despite having a learning disorder. Jesper continues to have issue with identity and trust hidden behind his abundant energy and humor. Matthias is willing to change for the woman he loves, despite the years of conditioning he faced as a druskelle. Nina remains steadfast in her loyalties to her friends, despite suffering from a major drug addiction throughout the book.
“Vile, ruthless, amoral. Isn’t that why you hired Kaz in the first place? Because he does the things that no one else dares? Go on, Van Eck. Break my legs and see what happens. Dare him.”
While I’m fairly certain my personality and temperament–and love of sweets–makes me more of a Nina, I definitely related to Inej more. She’s been through a lot, but what got me was the fact that she is a normal girl with skills she’d honed due to the spirit she has. When she realizes she’s up against a person much better than she is–and quite possibly having royal lineage (of the special snowflake variety)–Inej doesn’t keel over and let the person get the better of her. She effing FIGHTS. She SURVIVES. And this is why she is QUEEN.
But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.
I’m crying again. That was just such an inspirational scene.
As for Kaz…
He continues to be my favorite of the bunch, hands down. I have a thing for the smart guys, and as murderous as he is in the SoC duology, the minute Inej comes into the picture this boy is an awkward turtleduck teenager with a frigging crush and it. Is. THE MOST ADORABLE THING EVER. And the thing about their relationship is that it’s written so well as a slow-burn angst-driven drama–but in this case, it works. I loved the muted gestures, the slow attempts at giving and taking up space, the intense conversations, the fact that they both want so much but can only tolerate so little skin-to-skin contact. Practically half of Kaz’s POV is a love letter to Inej, and I. Am. CRYING.
“He was going to break my legs,” she said, her chin held high, the barest quaver in her voice. “Would you have come for me then, Kaz? When I couldn’t scale a wall or walk a tightrope? When I wasn’t the Wraith anymore?”
Dirtyhands would not. The boy who could get them through this, get their money, keep them alive, would do her the courtesy of putting her out of her misery, then cut his losses and move on.
“I would come for you,” he said, and when he saw the wary look she shot him, he said it again. “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.”
I just…there were SO MANY KANEJ QUOTES. SO MANY. But I thought the Black Veil scene with just the two of them was so powerful. It hurt inside when Inej spent a great deal of the beginning of the book thinking Kaz actually would cut his losses and run. That he wouldn’t actually try to break Inej out. The fact that Kaz–as Dirtyhands–thought the same made it hurt even more. But then Kaz says “I would come for you” anyway and UGH, SO. PERFECT. SO. RIGHT.
I can’t even get over a number of other things that happened in this book. Nina and Matthias together are often adorable. I loved their Little Ravka conversation about the princess and the barbarian. I loved the re-introduction of characters I didn’t think I’d actually see again from the Shadow and Bone trilogy (and I’m so glad they came!). I loved the interaction one particular fox-faced privateer had with the Bastard from the Barrel–it was absolutely everything and I so hope there’s more of this at some point in King of Scars or Rule of Wolves. I loved Wylan’s POV and the fact that Kaz has practically adopted this kid (and of course Kaz is the tough love dad and Inej the moral support mom). I loved Kaz’s confrontation with Per Haskell, despite my refusing to read the chapter for days on end thinking the worst was about to happen and I would lose a crow. (Hah, I was half right.) I loved the twists and turns, the schemes within schemes. It’s insane how many contingencies and plans Kaz came up with, that he’d accounted for almost everything. Almost.
Mostly, I just can’t get over how much crying I actually did in every other scene (other than the ones I’d already talked about).
- I cried when Inej almost-but-not-quite-escapes and is then transported back to mental desperation when Van Eck almost breaks her legs. It put her mindset back to the Menagerie and it was heartbreaking. I felt this in my soul for personal reasons.
- I cried at Goedmedbridge, with the appearance of the cloak and the geraniums. And the reunion.
- I cried when Inej asked Kaz about the net, and while he doesn’t say it, it’s clear he only set it up because he cannot bear to see her fall. Rip my heart out, why don’t you, Bardugo. (And of course, Kaz’s plans come in CLUTCH.)
- I cried the moment the Sweet Reef chapter ended, with the whispered “We’ll fight our way out together” and the fact that Nina totally ships Kanej with her one look.
- I cried when Kaz blurts out Jordie’s name to yell at Jesper. Like OMG that can of worms exploded and I swear I put the book down and picked it up several times before I even continued. And then the scheming face right after. And then Jesper asking who Jordie is and Kaz genuinely responding…MY HEART BLEEDS.
- I cried in the iconic bathroom scene, because Saints, it was steamy and heartfelt and agonizing and how did Bardugo get all of my emotions in a twist with just a handful of bandages, two teenagers with PTSD, and a fucking bathroom sink?!
- I cried with Nina. I just…I CRIED WITH NINA. I absolutely bawled when I read Matthias dream of Nina again.
And of course, I cried at the end. Just. You’d think Kaz would have already done enough with the fact that he practically bought Inej’s freedom, but COME ON, that boy just started showing off at Berth 22, and then the deal he made with the Ravkans?! And then the Pekka Rollins chapter of the Wraith?! #KANEJFOREVERRUINEDME
Yeah. If my brain and heart hadn’t already exploded and killed me several chapters back, I would have probably combusted again here. But by this point, all I could do was shed more tears and curl up into a ball at 6 pm in the evening, refusing to get up to do anything else.
5 million out of 5 cookies! Seriously. I need to get out of this Grishaverse headspace…but I don’t think I’m ready to let the characters go just yet. Give me another year. Or two. Or three…or however long it’s going to take for Leigh Bardugo to write another SoC book…