“And that was what destroyed you in the end: the longing for something you could never have.”
*This review is going to be very very spoiler heavy and also very long, read at your own peril*
Crooked Kingdom is the second installment of Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology, and it is, amazingly, just as good as the first. This book was full of intensity, with Bardugo’s skill in perfectly balancing deep character exploration and a complex plot making this a novel that really stood out. The plot of this sequel featured tricks similar to that seen in the first novel, but interestingly more emphasis was placed upon politics through the focus on the attempt to take down Van Eck and his empire. This slight shift in focus worked brilliantly, and made for a complex novel that I absolutely loved!
Bardugo creates a thoroughly engaging narrative, consistently throwing in curve balls and plot twists that leave the reader on the edge of their seat. Much like the first novel, the reader is kept in the dark and is left as clueless as many of the characters, allowing for a sense of suspense and urgency to be created. Humor was also integrated brilliantly into the overall seriousness of the narrative, creating a story that had brilliant character arcs and a beautifully crafted plot.
One of the most striking elements of the narrative is Bardugo’s clear skill for characterization. Each character remains wholly unique in their respective development and voice, and interestingly much of this character development can be seen in their relationships and dynamics with one another. Kaz remains the morally grey character that we see in the first novel, and we see his actions become darker in contrast to his inner conflict about not wanting to be as bad as he is. However this is not to say that he doesn’t develop; this is a character that develops greatly, especially with regards to his relationship with Inej. This relationship between Kaz and Inej is one that Bardugo approaches tentatively and respectfully, allowing for the characters to tackle their hardships at their own pace. We see two characters that both have an aversion to touch eventually become able to hold hands, and what is particularly impactful is that this is presented as being enough. This makes for an incredibly realistic relationship in which crucial aspects of the development of each character are explored in a way that makes the reader truly care for them.
As for Inej herself, something that I particularly loved about her was her family values. Here we see a character that struggles with the separation from her blood family while simultaneously finding a place within a found family, namely the dregs. This idea of found family is deeply rooted within the whole narrative, and is important to the character arcs of all of the dregs, not just Inej. Jesper has a lot more development in this book, and a lot of this development is surrounding his issues regarding his family and his identity, as well as his relationship with Kaz. This tension regarding found family comes to a head when Kaz and Jesper argue on the rooftop, which is a key point in their development, especially with the addition of Kaz calling Jesper Jordie.
Wylan is also given so much more room to develop in this book. In providing him with his own point of view, Bardugo is able to fully explore his feelings of inadequacy and the internal struggles he faces. This allows for the reader to become more attached to the character, which subsequently allows them to feel the full satisfaction of the revenge he gets against his father. Furthermore, the development of his relationship with Jesper is explored so naturally that I was immediately invested, and it became one of my favorite relationships in the novel.
This leaves Nina and Matthias. This is a classic case of enemies to lovers, and it is executed beautifully. Both experienced a lot of important development in this book, with Nina continually sticking to her beliefs and standing up for what she believes is right, and with Matthias realizing the error of his ways and becoming a true member of the dregs.
It is important to note, however, that Matthias did not just become more central in terms of becoming a true member of the dregs, but he also becomes an important means of Bardugo depicting an important message regarding unjustified prejudice and harmful ideologies. In a cruel twist of fate we see this character who realized the error of his ways die at the hands of one of his own; a Fjerdan that had not undergone the development he had. Though some argue that this was a death that was pointless, I would argue the opposite. It is completely realistic as it proves that the group is not invincible no matter how much planning they do, and also reflects the nature of the found family that they are all a part of. An important contrast is made in one of his own killing him and his found family being the ones that truly mourn his loss. This ultimately reflects the development of all of the dregs as a whole, alongside representing the pointlessness in the prejudice that the Fjerdans exhibit.
Furthermore, the ending of the novel was, in my opinion, perfectly executed! In not wrapping up it all up perfectly, Bardugo creates an ending that is utterly realistic. The final few pages were absolutely heart- wrenchingly beautiful, and made me fall in love with the duology even more!
Overall I absolutely loved this novel, and it will forever have a place in my favorites list!!