Book Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

TL;DR – The conclusion of the Six of Crows duology, which sees Kaz and his crew looking to rescue Inej from the clutches of Van Eck and take what is owed to them in order to start a new life.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page if you wish to read my review of Six of Crows, the first book in this duology.

With Inej captured by the rich and corrupt merchant, Jan Van Eck, Kaz and the remainder of his crows – Jesper (sharpshooter & gambling addict), Wylan (demolition expert & disowned son of Van Eck), Matthias (Fjerdan witch hunter), Nina (Grisha heartrender) – must come up with a plan to free her without handing over Kuwei Yul-Bo, the son of Bo Yul-Bayur, the scientist responsible for creating jurda parem, an addictive drug that amplifies Grisha power but causes deadly side effects.

Van Eck lays a trap using Inej as bait, but Kaz does not fall for it as he blindsides Van Eck by kidnapping his pregnant wife, Alys. A furious Van Eck agrees to trade Alys for Inej but uses the opportunity and his influence over the Merchant Council to have the stadwatch (the Ketterdam police) nearby during the exchange. The tense exchange occurs, but Van Eck then shouts to the crowd (and nearby stadwatch) that the man before him is Kaz Brekker, the man responsible for kidnapping his son (Wylan). In truth, Wylan was not kidnapped, he joined Kaz’s crew and Van Eck actually wants his son dead. The stadwatch storm in but suddenly a series of explosions occur and Shu Han warriors appear seeking to capture Grisha. These particular Shu have been modified by Grisha fabrikators (high on the parem drug) to now have wings and armour beneath their skin. The Shu are just one of several groups after Kuwei Yul-Bo, seeking to take control of the only person who has knowledge of how to make the drug.

In the ensuing mayhem, Kaz and Inej escape and they meet up with the rest of the crew at their hideout; a large tomb on the Black Veil, an island that was once used as a cemetery for the rich and wealthy but is now abandoned due to a past plague that ran through Ketterdam. The Merchant Council decreed that no burial could take place within city limits and that those who died are cremated on the Reaper’s Barge.

While achieving their goal of rescuing Inej, Kaz is now faced with the fact that the millions owed to him and his crew from Van Eck will never materialise unless they take action. To make matters worse, he owes money to his most hated enemy, Pekka Rollins, and also his own boss, Per Haskell. The only ace up his sleeve is he has Kuwei Yul-Bo. His initial scheme to get their millions by ruining Van Eck involves buying up shares in sugar stock and destroying Van Eck’s silos containing sugar reserves. The scheme fails because Pekka Rollins reveals his hand and has joined forces with Van Eck. Together the pair has every man and his dog hunting down Kaz and company, and to make matters worse, contingents from Fjerda, Ravka and Shu Han are also hunting down Kuwei.

Kaz goes all-in and seeks to turn the tables by controlling the narrative and having Kuwei declare his indenture and services up for auction. Under Ketterdam law, any individual who puts themselves up for indenture, can thus auction their services to the highest bidder. This is considered sacred under Ghezen, the god of commerce and trade, for which the people of Ketterdam abide by. Kaz thus instigates a plan to take down Van Eck and Rollins through the auction where every foreign contingent will be present, along with the stadwatch and every Ketterdam gang and merchant. It is a dangerous game and Kaz has put the lives of his five crows and himself on the line. By Kaz going all-in, how much of his hand is legit and how much of it is bluff? Will all six crows survive? Or will casualties ensue? Whose dreams will become a reality and whose will turn to ash on the Reaper’s Barge?

Review

Leigh Bardugo has a way with words.

She is particularly adept at creating dialogue that is engaging and funny and full of sass that provides added dimensions to the Six of Crows cast. She also manages to deliver a plot that is both complex and cohesive. The many pieces on the chess board that Bardugo keeps track of and ensuring not everything is smooth sailing makes the Crooked Kingdom are marvellous read that will have you turning the pages.

It is a remarkable effort that reflects the many layers of all the characters but especially Kaz Brekker. He is not just the leader and the glue, but his mind generates schemes within schemes and fail safes within fail safes and even when all hope looks lost, he rises bruised and bloodied with crow-head cane in hand and an intellect that allows him to move what pieces he has remaining to achieve check mate.

As with all good endings, the conclusion to Crooked Kingdom is far from being tied up in a neat little bow. Enough happens that you will be more than satisfied and Bardugo is clever enough to leave a small enough crack in the door (e.g. the Council of Tides confronts Kaz with a little chat at the end) that will make you think that she will one day return to Kaz and the crows with another tale (even though she has gone on record saying she will not return to these beloved characters and that this particular story arc is complete).

Sigh. We can hope can’t we?

4.5 out of 5.

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