by Leigh Bardugo
read from 24 to 26 September 2016
spoilers are hidden!
As this is a review of the second (and final) book in a duology, it might not be wise to read this before reading Six of Crows. However, I don’t think I mention any spoilers from that one, so you can still read my review if you really want to!
I was lucky to receive a paperback copy of Crooked Kingdom a few days before its release. This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016, so I started it right away because I didn’t want to get spoiled (as I was not the only one who was able to obtain a copy pre-release).
Crooked Kingdom is certainly more action-packed than Six of Crows. I had thought this was going to revolve around freeing Inej. Thankfully, that was only one of the many events. While this all sounds very positive, I didn’t really have the patience to enjoy it as much as I should’ve. I was dying to find out how it ends, so that definitely got in the way of my enjoyment. I’m certain I would enjoy this a little more reading this a second time around, knowing how it will end.
My biggest fear was that the girls would constantly have to be saved. Thankfully, that was not the case. They were essential to the plans, in charge of vital tasks and had most of the fight scenes!
I have talked about this many times on my blog, but not yet in my reviews: Leigh Bardugo is an important writer when it comes to diversity. There is tons in this duology and she proves that a character’s storyline shouldn’t revolve around their sexuality, skin colour, religion… We have a character with a physical disability, a former sex slave who is a WOC, a bisexual boy who is a MOC, a queer boy, a pansexual female character who isn’t skinny… I’m writing a thesis on diversity in some Young Adult books and I use post-its to keep track of mentions of diversity. Trust me when I say there is plenty of it in this duology and more writers should do an effort to include it.
Some dialogues were really funny. They actually had me laughing out loud. So I think Bardugo doesn’t necessarily has to stick to the Grishaverse (or fantasies for that matter) in the future, as I think her strength is definitely making the characters come to life. One of readers’ main complaints was how the characters didn’t seem only seventeen years old. And I agreed with that, but the funny banter truly shows how young these characters still are.
This duology was filled with scheming and I liked how we didn’t know the crew’s entire plan as a reader. It made sure we could still be surprised. But, after a while, it had become predictable that things weren’t what they seemed. Don’t get me wrong, Bardugo still managed to fool me time and time again, but that’s really what all their plans come down to.
I did notice that the narrative is unreliable. At one point, Kaz does something horrible and he thinks that Inej is never going to forgive him. At the end of the chapter, we find out that Kaz was bluffing and didn’t actually do that. So there was in fact nothing to forgive. There are many more examples and the POV chapters definitely direct our thoughts in a certain direction. Even if you are having your doubts as a reader, you fall for it because of what the POV character says.
I have read Six of Crows twice now, but I still haven’t read the Grisha trilogy. I regret that a little now, because I got spoiled for that trilogy and couldn’t appreciate some characters that made an appearance in Crooked Kingdom. Naturally, that would have been much more meaningful if I actually knew that character, besides only having heard of them.
I will discuss the pairings and (possible) characters’ deaths more detailed in the spoiler-part of my review, but I do want to say that I am disappointed. I’d rather have a depressing ending than an open one. I wanted more. And maybe that’s my fault: I felt the exact same way after reading The Raven King. I didn’t read this for the heists, I read this for the characters. They are what drive this duology, yet everything ended so vaguely. I can say the same about the pairings. Beautiful, slow-burn romances, but it was not enough. I hate not knowing how everything ended exactly. I bet many readers will disagree and it does leave room for a possible sequel, but I can’t help but feel disappointed. Even though I absolutely love and adore these characters, I only got emotional once, but that feeling was over after only a minute. I definitely think Bardugo could have made this much more angsty and emotional.
There is no epilogue. I really wish I got a final chapter from some of the characters. Like I’ve said, I hate not knowing exactly how they are doing.
Now, I will get into the spoilers. Do not read these if you haven’t read Crooked Kingdom yet. You will get spoiled, so you have been warned! I made the colour of the font white, so select the text below if you want to read it!
Leigh Bardugo had hinted many times one (or more) of the crows was going to die. My money was on Matthias. Killing the girls or queer characters would have been a blow to the face, because we are always the ones getting killed in books, TV shows… So that left either Kaz or Matthias. I knew she wasn’t going to go for Kaz, since he seems, much more than the others, the main character. And I was right: my precious baby Matthias is the only one that died. I was very angry. A, because it was so predictable and B, because it was done in such an unemotional way. We don’t even find out how Nina feels about it; she doesn’t get a POV chapter after his passing. He was, along with Nina and Inej, my favourite character in this duology. He went through so much character development and I hate that he had to die just because Bardugo needed to kill someone off. However, I still think someone had to die. Not for shock value, but because this is the final installment and if everyone had lived, that would’ve been too easy. So no, I wouldn’t have liked that either. I mean no disrespect, but I had really hoped Kaz was going to die. That sounds so horrible, but I think it would have been more meaningful. It certainly would have gotten more attention than Matthias’ death, which was done dirty in my opinion. This is like Noah Czerny all over again: remembered, my ass! Sure, the funeral was sad, but that scene was only one page long.
Let’s get into the pairings now. Like I’ve mentioned before, the relationships are slow-burn. Which is good, but I didn’t get as much romance as I would’ve wanted. There were millions of hints, but this book seriously lacked romance. And I can’t believe I am saying that, because I often dislike romance in books. But I’m going to be honest: I read this for the characters, not primarily for the plot.
I’m going to start with Matthias and Nina first, because we only know for certain how they ended, and that’s only because Matthias is dead. They were my favourite couple and I liked their interactions. I think Nina and Inej are the characters who go through the worst ordeals. And I’m sad Nina didn’t get a happy ending. Not that her happiness depends on a man, but their story wasn’t finished yet. I’m so sad I will never get to read about them in Ravka.
It really bothers me that we didn’t get a final chapter from Nina’s POV. I want to know how she is doing, certainly after Matthias’ death. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for and I’m probably not the only one who feels that way.
In both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, there were a lot of hints that Jesper and Wylan were going to get together. We already knew for certain they were queer, but I am happy they also got together. Unfortunately though, when Jesper and Wylan actually got together, their ‘relationship’ wasn’t mentioned nearly as much anymore. We only got to see the flirting, and once they actually kissed, it was over. Not literally, but we didn’t find out much more. Once again, this shows that the ending was too vague (for my taste).
As if my opinion wasn’t unpopular enough, I’ll add fuel to the fire: I had hoped Inej and Kaz weren’t going to end up together. When I first read Six of Crows, I shipped them, but I liked the other pairings more. When I re-read it, I was more hesitant, as I thought they both would have to sacrifice too much. When reading Crooked Kingdom, I was afraid they were going to be the only pairing left standing. That’s when I realized I didn’t like the pairing anymore. I think Inej deserves better than him. This has nothing to do with his trauma and triggers, which I already talked about in my review of my re-read of Six of Crows. I think Kaz is cruel: he threatened a child, tortures people, is rude to his friends… Inej is nothing like that. Yes, she has killed, but to survive. It’s still murder, but it’s different. Kaz seems to enjoy this lifestyle, whereas Inej wants to do something better with her life (hunting slavers). Maybe Kaz is my scapegoat, and I blame him for the violence, but I truly think he is ‘worse’ than the other Crows. He certainly is a morally grey character, and that is okay. But I often have trouble connecting to such characters, and that certainly influences the way I think about this pairing too.
Their ending bothered me. I realize I’m contradicting myself, because he finally lets his guard down. But he doesn’t for almost two books and in the final chapter, he does? I realize that is character development, but that made the ending too happy for me. He made Inej very happy in the end, but she was going to go to her parents on her own. She was going to get a ship on her own. She could have done that without his help. That’s why I am annoyed that he did that. I realize I sound like a bitter old lady and people will hate me, but maybe I’m not a fan of those happy endings. Kaz almost seemed like a puppy, which is unlike him.
When I read, I take notes. I actually wrote down that I was afraid there might be too many loose ends, like the Shu army and the poisonous pill. And I was right. Why introduce all that if it’s not going to be talked about again? Once more, that reminded me of my experience with The Raven King.
conclusion: This was much more action-packed than I had anticipated and even exceeded my expectations at times. However, the ending and the characters were too vague: they were the reason I fell in love with this duology, so I have the feeling I didn’t get enough. Not everything was wrapped up, and I’m not a fan of that. Still, I enjoyed this very much and I am looking forward to what Bardugo is going to do next!