This book would have been five stars for me, easy, if it wasn’t for this one thing I will talk about in the spoiler tagged section below. But for the most part, Crooked Kingdom (and the series as a whole) is a fun, character driven, well-written fantasy heist romp. This book is also technically YA, but it doesn’t really read like it (which I gather is different even from Bardugo’s previous series, which shares a universe with this one). I mean, the protagonists are all young (under 25) but they aren’t really (for the most part) dealing with young-person stuff, you know? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is fuck genre; really good stories resist classification, this is a good book, and you should read it.
So this book actually picks up less than a week after the (cliffhanger) ending of Six of Crows. Um, SPOILERS AHOY for the first book. Inej is being held ransom by their turncoat benefactor from the last book, Jan Van Eck. He refused to pay Kaz’s gang even though they completed their mission, and when Kaz refused to hand over their prize as a result (Kuwei Yul-Bo, a Shu boy who holds the secrets to a dangerous and powerful drug), Van Eck nabbed Inej. Kaz and the rest have been working non-stop on one of Kaz’s crazy plans to rescue her. But that’s only part of the book. Kaz and the others also have other goals of their own, and even when stuff starts going all to hell, they fight and scrape by to make good on those goals.
The whole book is a non-stop barrage of exciting action, twisty-turny plots and cons, and by turns heartbreaking, unflinching, adorable character interactions. Really, the plot and worldbuilding are great (more stories in this world!) but it’s the characters that are the heart(s) of this book. Or maybe they’re its backbone. It certainly would have collapsed under its own weight without their complexity and depth of feeling.
And the ending was (almost) the perfect combination of surprising and yet giving you what you need even though you thought you didn’t want it, that I prefer in my books. If you were waiting to see how the series turned out before you start it, go. I give you permission to finally read it. It ends well.
However, and seriously don’t highlight this spoiler section unless you want something major ruined for you: Matthias, the Fjerdan soldier who was just learning how to be human, open and accepting, and who had a bright future of flirting and sex and babies and adventure and helping other Fjerdans to see the error of their ways alongside Nina, fucking DIES, and he dies for NO GOOD RAISIN. I’m serious, I’m so mad that he died.
At a certain point, you have to look at your story and ask yourself why you’re killing a character, and if it’s only so that your readers take you seriously and believe in the stakes of your world, I want you to stop and think real hard about actually going through with it. We made it through the WHOLE FUCKING SERIES without anyone dying. If stakes are what you’re going for, it’s too late for that. The story was done. He didn’t need to die.
ALL KINDS OF MESSED UP SHIT happened to these characters (Kaz and Inej alone would have been enough, but all of them have their traumas). Nobody was going to complain or feel something was missing if Leigh Bardugo let all of her damn characters make it out alive. If she was going for bittersweet, once again, Kaz and Inej would have been enough. I’m sorry, I just don’t see the point. I don’t mind when characters die, but not just so you can say, look, ONE OF MY CHARACTERS DIED AND HE WAS SO GOOD AND EVERYBODY LOVED HIM OH NO LET’S ALL BE SO SAD.
Fuck that shit. He didn’t need to die.