I picked up (and reviewed) the original Shadow and Bone trilogy after watching the Netflix series. At the time I read in various forums (including, I’m pretty sure, other Cannonball Read reviews) that the Grishaverse novels get even better in the spin-offs – and based off of these two books, I have to agree! While I enjoyed the Shadow and Bone trilogy well enough, I didn’t feel they brought anything particularly new or interesting to the fantasy genre, and overall I actually thought that the Netflix series was better-paced and made more interesting choices than the source material.
In the Six of Crows duology, Leigh Bardugo brings her gift of crafting lighting-fast plots with sky-high stakes, and marries it with characters who are far more entertaining, complex, and just plain fun than the main characters in Shadow and Bone. Additionally, while Bardugo’s sense of humor and skill with quippy dialogue were hinted at in the Shadow and Bone trilogy, they really shine in the Six of Crows duology.
Six of Crows
Starting several years after the action of the original trilogy, Six of Crows introduces our cast of characters: Jesper, a sharp-shooter with uncanny skills and uncanny bad luck at gambling. Nina, a Grisha Heartrender who is unable to return to her home in Ravka (and several of the surviving characters from Shadow and Bone) until she frees the man who once took her prisoner. Matthias, who still can’t decide if he should follow the laws of his homeland and deliver Nina to certain death, or admit (to himself, most of all) that he has fallen in love with her. Wylan, who has mysteriously turned his back on immense wealth and privilege. Inej, an extraordinary acrobat, thief, and information-gatherer known as “the wraith” in this world of thieves and con artists, who was stolen from her family by slavers and just needs One Big Job to pay off her indenture and live on her own terms. And finally, Kaz Brekker: Dirtyhands, the Bastard of the Barrel, the teenage criminal mastermind who brings our crew together in the murky streets of Ketterdam to pull off an impossible heist (which, coincidentally, may either save or damn the world, depending on its outcome).
There is A Lot going on with these characters, and we honestly only get a glimpse of it in the first book – Kaz’s backstory is filled out, and there are glimpses of the winding paths that other characters took to find themselves signing on to a heist that very well may lead to their deaths, but you really need to stick around for the second book to really dig into everyone’s layered motivations. However, this first entry is enough to fall in love with them, root for them, and to worry half to death that all of their plans will come crashing down. As in previous entries in the Grishaverse, Bardugo never set stakes lower than life-or-death, which works particularly well in a novel focused on a heist. I enjoyed this book immensely, stayed up way too late to finish it, and couldn’t wait to pick up the sequel as soon as it was available from the library.
Crooked Kingdom picks up almost directly after the action of the previous book, as the gang licks their wounds following being double-crossed. After the crashing cliffhanger at the end of Six of Crows, the action of Crooked Kingdom is absolutely non-stop. Kaz rounds up the troops yet again, determined to get back everything (and everyone) lost to the betrayal of his supposed benefactor: money, power, and perhaps most importantly, revenge.
As ever with Bardugo’s work, I was on the actual edge of my seat for this entire book. The heist takes place in the gang’s home territory, and it is both deeply personal and terrifyingly far-reaching in potential consequences. The affection I developed in the first book for these characters continued to grow through this sequel, and I found myself desperately hoping that everyone would get a happy ending. Through all the twists and turns, I particularly wished for some semblance of peace and happiness to find Kaz Brekker – even though he is too broken, too cynical, too angry to believe that such a thing could possibly exist for his likes.
Crooked Kingdom delighted me and broke my heart in turns. I laughed and I cried, and I am hoping with every fiber of my reader’s heart that Bardugo plans to revisit these characters in future books.