Kaz Brekker and his crew 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 left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, 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.
Note: Review contains spoilers for Six of Crows
This week there’s been a lot of talk of our favourite schemer of Westeros, as Littlefinger in Game of Thrones was shocked by a revisiting of his theory that ‘chaos is a ladder.’ I was reminded of this as the master tactician of this duology, Kaz Brekker, maintains that creating some chaos provides security should his plans go awry.
In Six of Crows, we met the unlikely band of rogues thrown together by Kaz to pull off a seemingly impossible person-stealing heist. It was a success mainly, but not without repercussions. Kaz’s gang have not gotten their payment and they’re down one of their ranks, the elusive Inej, the Wraith, and Kaz’s most trusted associate. Added to that the fact that most of Ketterdam is intent on finding Kaz and destroying everything he has worked for, and we’re left with plenty left to play for in Crooked Kingdom.
The two books in the series work brilliantly together and apart, essentially one long story, but also distinctly separate from each other. Six of Crows developed the six main characters through flashback chapters told from their individual perspectives while staying with the main plot of the heist. It told us who these characters are and how they all came to be who they are. It helped in rooting for Kaz, Jesper, Wylan, Matthias, Nina and Inej as the heist became ever more treacherous.
Crooked Kingdom is predominantly based in Ketterdam, acting as a microcosm for the rest of this beautifully realised world. It is a prosperous yet crime-ridden city and the action mainly stays on one timeline this time, with only brief flashbacks to fill in some of the gaps in character histories. It gives us a chance to get to know the city better as Kaz plots his moves like a game of chess from one end to the other.
Leigh Bardugo has done a fantastic job in creating this seemingly endless world, down to the most minute details. Her writing of action setpieces is stunning. You feel like you’re right in the thick of it. Most importantly, her characters are something else entirely. They are really well developed at this stage, bulked up by the backstory in Six of Crows. As the reader, you now think you can predict what characters will do based on their personalities and actions. Their interactions with each other are as entertaining as any of the more showy action scenes. There’s a real sense of caring and determination between them and the various love stories therein play out immaculately. All different relationships, rich with dialogue moments and excellent arcs.
The plot itself is a succession of major setpieces, sometimes involving all of the main characters but leaving time for smaller groups to set off on another ridiculous undertaking as part of Kaz’s plans. The multi-narrative approach helps in plotting this way.
Kaz continues to astonish with his ingenuity, except this time it often looks like he’s bitten off more than he can chew and you begin to wonder if the gang have any chance in succeeding in their goals.
There’s plenty of villains along the way as well, from Per Haskell to Pekka Rollins and the malevolent Jan Van Eck. One of the other more memorable villains comes in the shape of a ‘shadow’ of Inej, an apparent equal.
Crooked Kingdom is simply magical storytelling. Leigh Bardugo continues to write a world that is gritty, it feels lived in and real, while possessing its own forms of magic and fantasy.