Warning: This review contains mild spoilers
“How many times have you told me you’re a monster? So be a monster. Be the thing they all fear when they close their eyes at night.”
The fantastic thing about Crooked Kingdom is that while it may not have been everything I wanted, it was everything that it needed to be.
Once again, it was driven forcibly off the edges of cliff by its wonderfully 3D characters, as Bardugo’s writing is wont to do. If Kaz was a monster in Six of Crows, then he was every bit more monstrous. And aside from him and Inej and in some broad strokes, Matthias, the other three crows had to face all kinds of demons that they’d been toying with at the end of Six of Crows and really bring the battle to the foreground.
If Six of Crows was the book of Kaz, Inej and Matthais, then Crooked Kingdom belonged to Nina, Jesper and Wylan.
This is why, if you’ve read other reviews you’ll notice folks waxing poetic about Jesper and Wylan and especially dear, sweet Nina. It’s because we got them up in our faces and we watch them struggle through the new problems they are facing.
I’m going to be mildly spoiler here on because I need to get all these feelings out, so if you’re not partial towards them I suggest you scroll right to the bottom and click the BD link to get yourself a copy.
“Don’t worry, Da. People point guns at each other all the time in Ketterdam. It’s basically a handshake.”
Jesper in CK was just as fantastic as in the previous book. He was swashbuckling and gun-totting, teasing and flirting with Wylan and smart-mouthing his way around ‘family conversations.’ Except this time his little family extends to include his actual family.
The addition of Jesper’s sweet and solid, farmer father was very welcome. As Bardugo herself said somewhere, (where I forget) sometimes it’s very easy to forget that these are children. True, they’re not children that have flourished in normal circumstances and they are doing things that would be considered for some stone, cold adults, but the bottom line after it all; Matthias is nineteen and the rest of the crows are younger than him.
Jesper’s Dad brings the latent child out of the gang on many occasions, his fatherly reprimand manages to stop Kaz in his tracks on one occasion. And I really loved that touch of humanity in the crows. Suddenly, they really were just precious little babies.
While Jesper did have his endearingly, bumbling moments around Wylan and the sudden preciousness their relationship had become, I found him much more sympathetic when he was trying to both lie to, save and set things right for his father.
“Until this moment, Wylan hadn’t quite understood how much they meant to him. His father would have sneered at these thugs and thieves, a disgraced soldier, a gambler who couldn’t keep out of the red. But they were his first friends, his only friends, and Wylan knew that even if he’d had his pick of a thousand companions, these would have been the people he chose.”
We were all unnaturally excited for the coveted Wylan POV in CK and it was not disappointing.
In fact, it set in stone, something that we already suspected about him in SOC; that he was a smol bean too precious for this world, while also showing us that he was a smol bean capable of big things.
I loved the dynamic of Kaz and Wylan scenes from Wylan’s POV where he was learning from the surroundings and paying special attention to the details and intricacies of Kaz’s trickster game in a way that no one else of the crows had.
It made Kaz all the more special but also all the more human. And refreshing, for Wylan did not see Kaz through rose-coloured, romantic glasses but for his immense brain power and indomitable spirit.
I’d love it if more characters were like Wylan, because he’s the strongest crow, don’t you be fooled or told otherwise and his mere presence was a catalyst for many things in the events of CK.
“Nina heaped a plate with food and plunked down beside Matthias on the couch. She folded one of the waffles in half and took a huge bite, wiggling her toes in bliss. “I’m sorry, Matthias,” she said with her mouth full. “I’ve decided to run off with Jesper’s father. He keeps me in the deliciousness to which I have become accustomed.”
Ah Nina, Nina.
Am I the only one who thinks that Nina was the one who got the best deal out of this duology?
She has a wonderful arc with Matthias in SOC that comes to a bittersweet climax in CK.
When we met her in SOC she was instantly likable; cunning, smart, a foodie with a mouth capable of turning even the most innocent sentence into innuendo and on more occasion than once, tells Kaz exactly what she thinks of him.
If you think about it, all of the crows owe Kaz, one way or another. They feel strongly about him, they love him, but Nina is the only one that challenges him.
In CK, she shows us more sides to her. Nina is on the brink of powerlessness. She’s not in control of her circumstances. Her body does not obey her. And yet she still has time to crack jokes and keep up her strong facade.
I feel that Nina’s arc spanned perfectly over the two books and gave her a consistent place in the narrative which the others, especially Kaz and Inej, did not have.
“Kuwei turned to Jesper. “You should visit me in Ravka. We could learn to use our powers together.”
“How about I push you in the canal and we see if you know how to swim?” Wylan said with a very passable imitation of Kaz’s glare.”
I only have a few minor complaints when it comes to the overall ending of the duology, first of which, why didn’t Kuwei get a bigger role?
I mean, he was passive at the beginning and we never get to know if he really understands Kerch or if he’s pretending not to know so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge the madcaps he’s hiding out in a cemetery with. And he also shows quite a sense of humour.
Why wasn’t there more?
There was also very little Kaz.
I digress that even if the book had been narrated solely by Kaz we would still be unsatisfied because he’s the love of our lives. But for the main protagonist, I felt like Kaz was sidelined in favour of giving Jesper and Wylan more backstory. As well as for Nina and the Ravkans.
Finally, Inej did nothing for three quarters of the book!
While I’ve seen complaints that Inej’s religious inclinations make her seem pious and like she’s above it all, I would like to disagree.
Inej is religious and she also kills people and was a former prostitute. So what? The entities we choose to believe in and the things we do are constantly at war with each other. That is what having a faith is all about.
But aside from learning to open up more to Kaz and the possibility of them, Inej had little development and I am sad.
After all this and the way the book ends, I like to delusion myself into thinking that more Grisha works are under construction.
If that is the case, I will read them all and happily lay down and die.
“Kaz,” said Nina. “You may not be glad we’re alive, but we’re glad you’re alive. Come here!”
“Leave him be,” murmured Inej softly.
“Saints, Wraith,” said Jesper. “You’re bleeding.”
“Should I call a doctor?” asked Jesper’s father.
“No!” they all replied in unison.
“Of course not,” said Colm. “Should I ring for coffee?”
“Yes, please,” said Nina.” – CROOKED KINGDOM, 2016