I decided to read Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo after being moderately impressed with Six of Crows, and being kind of dragged into the imagination of the Shadow and Bone Netflix series. Having vaguely known that Crooked Kingdom had something to do with the dreggy Crows managing to stage a market coup, I was sufficiently intrigued, but not expecting too much. I was, therefore, suitably impressed.
After the extraction of Kuwei from the Ice Court, the world is now falling all over themselves to get the secret of the jurda parem from him and weaponize their Grisha. Unfortunately, Kuwei is disguised as Wylan, the son of a wealthy Ketterdam merchant. Which seems like a great plan until said merchant puts out a reward for the return of his son, hoping of course to get his hands on Kuwei and the secret of jurda parem. And Nina is still suffering the effects of her use of said jurda parem and can’t tailor the kid back to looking like his normal self or into some other disguise. So Kaz and the gang’s clever plans are threatening to outsmart themselves. Fortunately, the clever plans are just getting started.
Kaz’s machinations start setting off not only his erstwhile enemies such as the Dime Lions and their illustrious leader Pekka Rollins, but also his one-time gang in the Dregs, managing to ally almost the whole of Ketterdam against him. Meanwhile, there’s a new crew in town, flapping their wings all over and taking out Grisha left and right. International relations are heating up, and someone is using the reclusive Council of Tides’ authority to place an embargo on shipping in Ketterdam, so escape to Rakva or anywhere else is not looking likely. But with a thinning list of allies and nowhere to go, how can the Crows hope to survive let alone win?
With the expansion of the characters as they had been established, introducing Jesper’s father into the mix, for example, and beginning to acknowledge Kaz and Inej’s literally painful love story, as well as the after-effects of the jurda parem on Nina’s heart-rending, I was there for it. I still think it a bit too convenient to have the six Crows all neatly paired up romantically, but what do I know. The fans have spoken and seem to approve so I’ll keep my cries of “realism” and “variety” to a minimum.
I don’t know why it wasn’t quite hitting me in Six of Crows, but in this book, I could really see and be convinced by the supposed cleverness and doggedness of Kaz that manages to turn everything around him to his ultimate advantage. On paper, at least. I feel like I wasn’t being told so much as shown in this book, and I could definitely get more on board with his character. I still think it was trying too hard in the first one, and that some of his weaknesses and backstory should have actually been saved to come out in smaller, less detailed pieces along the way. But hey, we can’t all be Maggie Stiefvater writing Ronan Lynch, can we?
All in all, though I was at times slightly lost with the double-crossing, double-talking, and double-bluffs that made the hair-brained market crash scheme work, I think I enjoyed this book over all more than the first one. Is it because things were already established in the first one? Maybe. Either way, I liked use of the world and society to eke out a win through espionage and sabotage, rather than the more over-the-top heist scenario of Six of Crows. It really showed Kaz Brekker as I think we were always meant to view him in his natural habitat, and did a good job of subtly showing the other characters developing as well, without having it take a backseat because they are in the middle of action and shenanigans. There is action and shenanigans, don’t get me wrong (I particularly liked the showdown between Inej and the flying monkey), but it is all apace with the characters and gives them some breathing room to naturally showcase what’s going on with them. It does not, I repeat not, simply grind the plot to a halt for an extended flashback sequence that is so detailed and prolonged that it completely replaces right-now character development time. Cough <six of crows> cough.
It almost makes me want to read more of the Grishaverse.