One of the library’s copies of Crooked Kingdom was available sooner than expected, although I did only start reading it 1 day before my loan was up (and it had another hold on it after me). Oops! Fortunately, despite its heft, this book is a pretty easy read. Leigh Bardugo’s style has that benefit of the words virtually leaping off the page as you glide through her narration.
Picking up where Six of Crows left off, Crooked Kingdom features the aftermath of Kaz and the gang’s doublecross at the hands of a wily yet dishonourable Ketterdam merchant. Now that merchant has Inej, Kaz’s wall-scaling Spider and also-perhaps-love-interest. So not only does Kaz need to rescue her, but he has every intention of recouping the money they lost by not being paid for their heist on the Ice Fortress. This calls for a convoluted plan … or perhaps several plans.
There are two things that really work for me about this book. First, as I just mentioned, Kaz’s initial plan doesn’t work. Nor, really, does the second. Or the third. I lost count at some point, but the fact remains that despite making Kaz out to be a genius mastermind, Bardugo makes sure he doesn’t succeed on the first try. He’s usually one step ahead, yes, but occasionally he’s one step ahead of someone else who is also one step ahead of him … or something. Anyway, a lot of the conflict in this book comes from the failure of Kaz’s plans, and I respect when an author lets their protagonists fail a bunch of times.
The second thing that really works for me is the way that Crooked Kingdom explores more of the backstories of its characters, particularly Jesper. This is a welcome addition to the novel’s length, for it helps us understand how Jesper came to run with Kaz—and why he sticks around, even after inadvertently betraying Kaz. Similarly, we see characters like Nina struggle with the fallout from the first book (in her case, craving for jurda parem). This is a book in which everyone is struggling, and Kaz has to push them to give him just a little bit more.
The story itself is more about cons than heists, and that’s ok by me. Again, each character gets a chance to participate in whatever ways they can contribute. The pleasure in Crooked Kingdom comes from the seamlessness of Bardugo’s worldbuilding meshed with the stakes of the plot: if Kaz and crew don’t pull this off, it isn’t just their necks and their finances on the line but also potentially a flashpoint for a massive war. The way that this sneaks up on you is excellent.
I’m guessing I’m probably not alone in my dissatisfaction with how Bardugo handles Kaz/Inej. I won’t get into spoilers, but let’s just say that the ship fics are probably in overabundance to compensate for what Crooked Kingdom dangles in front of us without truly delivering. And that’s ok—it’s understandable why Bardugo makes that choice, and I would be curious to know if she ever plans to revisit these particular characters.
As it is, I appreciate the tightness of this duology’s plotting. I respect Bardugo and her agent and publishers for not dragging this storyline into a duology. I am intrigued by the loose ends left here for future series—and perhaps this will motivate me to go back and read Shadow & Bone indeed. At the end of the day, that’s probably the best recommendation a novel can make of itself—that it left you wanting more, more from that author and from the universe they’ve created.