Crooked Kingdom | Thoughts
5 Stars. 10 Stars. A million.
Where. Do. I. Begin.
I have waited so long to write this review basically because I wanted to write a whole damn thesis paper. You know when a sequel is everything you wanted it to be, and then some? Yea, this was like that.
YA books can be amazing. They can also be absolute crud, an art form brought down in quality until it's nothing more than a mess puddling on the pages, poorly edited, poorly written, and thrown together for the sake of pretty covers and cashing in on the hype. I am not looking for perfection in everything...I have books I gush over, books that maybe I loved but critically could be improved. Crooked Kingdom is an example of a book that I want to take notes from. I want to study every creative development, every structural component, every sly choice of words page to page. Every writer has their own process, but I want to talk with Leigh Bardugo to learn as much as I can about how she crafted such a complete, complex, and absolutely perfect human cast of broken characters. The plot is air-tight, I found no holes to slip through, no logic to be questioned in the rules of this world. The character development is absolutely stunning; I feel as if I deeply know each and every one of the crows.
I'll try and focus on just a few of the main points of what is phenomenal about this duology. First, the intensity of these characters and how Bardugo weaves multiple plot points together is brilliant. She leads readers down so many different paths, I wasn't sure which way would lead me back out again. After Six Of Crows, I thought I had my guard up and would spot a trick of Kaz's a mile away. I STILL did not catch any. Oh, I felt so smart when I thought I was on to something...but then I would doubt myself, and the scenario, and then BAM. TRICK. Kaz/Bardugo...you SLY, SLY DEVILS.
"There had to be twenty Dregs looking up at Kaz, all of them armed, and yet Inej could have sworn she sensed their relief."
Speaking of this devil...Kaz is beautiful, dark, broken, twisted, and ruthless. He is the antihero of my dreams, not letting anything stand in his way. Not friendships, not alliances, not love (at least outwardly)...he gets everything he wants and he doesn't explain why or apologize for what it took to get it. Too often these morally dark characters lean towards the light as the tale ends, always redeemed. Don't get me wrong, I love to see that. But what I love more is a character who doesn't suddenly morph from the beginning of a story to the end, dropping some or all of the flaws that make them who they are, just to suit the needs of the story. Kaz is traumatized, and while he may not always carry out the twisted means he threatens to suit his ends, he has no limits to what he's willing to do. He's manipulative, and he is intelligent. There is no doubt that he would see those threats through, if pushed. The one weakness he just barely allows is Inej, and he fights like hell against that which makes him weak and stands in his way. Can that result in losing her? Yes. And it's a sacrifice he'll make, if it comes to it.
"'In the Barrel, we don't trade in safety,' Kaz said, the abraded burn of his voice carrying over the crowd. 'There's only strength and weakness. You don't ask for respect. You earn it.'
You don't ask for forgiveness. You earn it. He'd stolen her line. She almost smiled."
My mind is still reeling with how much Bardugo weaves into the plot, how many twists, how much time she devotes to character development, and yet the story never feels bogged down. We learn about each character's past in a way that aids the overall story, so it never feels like we've stopped with the main story just to get some extra information. Each relationship is unique and perfect in its own way. Jesper and Wylan, Nina and Mathius, Kaz and Inej. All are flawed, and not in that terribly romantic way that is just surface deep. We have true trauma in each of their lives, and Bardugo tackles a multitude of heavy issues from grief, PTSD, sexual and familial abuse, homophobia and racial stereotyping.
On the romance level...all I will say is that when the most grin worthy, happy dance, clapping for joy moment is a holding of hands, you have successfully pulled all the right heartstrings with none of the cheap tricks typical of YA romances. Trauma symptoms were not suddenly ignored and dropped just to push some swoon moments. Every character remained true. And the ending of each relationship is exactly how it should be. Even if that ending had me wailing and pouting in denial.
"'We were all supposed to make it,' said Wylan softly.
Maybe that was naive...but Jesper realized he'd been thinking the same thing. After all their mad escapes and close calls, he'd started to believe the six of them were somehow charmed, that his guns, Kaz's brains, Nina's wit, Inej's talent, Wylan's ingenuity, and Matthias' strength had made them somehow untouchable. They might suffer. They might take their knocks, but Wylan was right, in the end they were all supposed to stay standing.
'No mourners,' said Jesper, surprised by the ache of tears in his throat.
'No funerals,' they all replied softly."
The losses we suffer at the end seemed to come on too suddenly in the story...like turning a blind corner and being punched in the gut; I kind of still don't believe it happened, and trying to catch my breath afterwards is painful.
One final note - I applaud how this story is confidently closed as a duology. When the adventures of the Crows could so obviously go on and on, it is mastery to know when your story is perfectly rounded and complete, even if we as readers imagine all sorts of futures for the characters and world. That's not to say we won't be in the Grisha-verse again, and I wholly look forward to any cameos. But knowing that the best time to say farewell is when your readers still pine for the characters is genius.
So, pine away we must, and look forward to the gorgeous artwork that is being created to keep us connected with our favorite band of ruffled crows.