Crooked Kingdom is the second half of the duology started in Six of Crows. When first we met our six protagonists, they were all down on their luck in general society but they had carved out places for themselves in the street life. They took on what many considered an impossible job, succeeded, and then had victory snatched from them by a double cross and kidnapping. The start of Crooked Kingdom finds everyone brought low, mentally and physically, but with a new mission, to rescue their comrade with a side order of revenge.
While Six of Crows was a direct heist, this book is plans within plans. Bardugo slowly cranks up the tension as things fall apart, new information is revealed, and the straits get ever more dire for the companions. Through it all Kaz Brekker keeps a laser focus on not only getting retribution from those who have wronged him, and his gang, but also his ultimate goal of destroying everything that his enemies hold dear ‘brick by brick’. It’s not enough for them to taste defeat, Kaz wants to obliterate their accomplishments and tear down their empires. He’s a bit savage like that. But the further the talented crows are backed into a corner, the more desperate and clever they become. ‘When you can’t beat the odds, change the game’.
One problem I had with Six of Crows was that there are six titular characters but one, Wylan, doesn’t have a voice in the way that everyone else does by having chapters alternating their character perspectives. This book makes up for it as now Wylan’s point of view is given along with everyone else. In Crooked Kingdom, we also learn far more about Jesper’s backstory too, fleshing both characters out more fully, similar to how well rounded Kaz, Inej, Nina, and Mattias are by the end of book one.
In reflection, perhaps Bardugo didn’t include Wylan’s perspective because she didn’t want to over stuff the first book in the duology. By saving Wylan and Jesper’s backstory for this book, it adds depth to the fascination that builds between them through Crooked Kingdom. I enjoyed their romance and liked that there was a gay love story along with the heteronormative ones of Kaz/Inej and Nina/Mattias.
At the end of Crooked Kingdom, Kaz is asked why he chose the crow for his emblem. He explains that crows remember. They remember when you treat them well, they remember when you treat them poorly, and they will tell other crows about your actions. It’s a philosophy that deeply resonates with Kaz and motivates him.
This was a fantastic follow-up to Six of Crows. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole arc of their adventures and personal transformations. Not only does Bardugo craft an incredible story in these books, but she also adds more depth to her Grishaverse, making it feel more real and lived in. I keep debating if these books can stand on their own, or if you do need to read the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy first for the world building and to explain the cameos. I borrowed “Shadow and Bone” from the library, which I no longer have access too, but own the “Six of Crows” duology. I know my husband would enjoy the duology but would he grok it as well if he doesn’t read the other series first?