Into The Crooked Place (Into The Crooked Place #1) Review (ARC)

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Book: Into The Crooked Place (Into The Crooked Place #1)

Author: Alexandra Christo

Published By: Hot Key Books

Expected Publication: 8th October

Format: Physical copy, paperback

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Saxony, Karam and Tavia’s conversation on the train, they talk about Crafters and their families and make jokes about the train.

Thanks to Hot Key Books for giving my friend Hannah a free copy of this book, and thanks to Hannah for lending it to me! This in no way influenced my opinion of it.

I read Alexandra Christo’s debut, To Kill A Kingdom earlier this year as part of my #RockMyTBR Challenge, and I loved it, it’s one of my favourite books I’ve read this year, so naturally when I heard that she had a second novel, coming out this year, I knew I had to read it. My friend Hannah (who also loved TKAK) won an ARC of this at YALC and she was kind enough to let me borrow it when she was done. I’m happy to say that I really enjoyed this one, perhaps not quite as much as TKAK, but it was still really good and I’m so excited to get the next one when it comes out, hopefully next year! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Magic rules the city of Creije Capital and Tavia Syn knows just how many tricks she needs up her sleeve to survive. Selling dark magic on the streets for her kingpin, she keeps clear of other crooks, counting the days until her debt is paid and she can flee her criminal life.

But then, one day, with her freedom in sight, Tavia uncovers a sinister plot that threatens to destroy the realm she calls home. Desperate to put an end to her kingpin’s plan, Tavia forms an unlikely alliance with three crooks even more deadly than her:

Wesley, the kingpin’s prodigy and most renewed criminal in the realm

Karam, an underground fighter with a penchant for killing first and forgetting to ask questions

And Saxony, a Crafter in hiding who will stop at nothing to avenge her family

With the reluctant saviours assembled, they embark on a quest to put an end to the dark magic before it’s too late. But even if they can take down the kingpin and save the realm, the one thing they can’t do is trust each other.

The first thing I want to talk about with this book is the writing style, because I really, really love Alexandra Christo’s writing. Like with TKAK, she starts with a killer first line, and the writing through the rest of the book is just stunning as well, dark and immersive, it really fits the tone of the book. I also love the way she does dialogue, there’s plenty of witty banter between the characters (though not quite to the same level as Lira and Elian in TKAK) which of course I loved, particularly between Tavia and Karam. She also balances the four POVs really well, each character has such a distinct voice that you’re never confused as to whose chapter it is (although there are of course chapter headings).

I also really enjoyed the magic system, I thought it was very creative. Basically you have Crafters, who have true magic, and are the only ones who can create new magic and then you have Buskers, who basically use these kind of magic tricks, that are just a shade of what the Crafters can do, and I thought that was really interesting, I’ve not seen a magic system like that before. What I will say though, is while I thought the magic was done well, I’d have like a little more world-building in other respects. We get a decent idea of what Crejie was like, but we don’t really learn about the rest of Uskhanaya or any of the other realms and I’d like to see more of that in the next book.

The pacing was a bit uneven, it’s quite slow paced to start off with and takes a long time to get to the exciting part of the book, and then towards the climax, it starts to feel a little rushed. I didn’t find the pacing a massive problem, because I loved the characters and the payoff was good, but I hope in the next book, the pacing is a bit more even throughout.

I loved the characters, they are all various shades of morally grey, there’s no one you could really consider a hero in this book, they all live in the anti-hero realm which I have to say I loved. Tavia and Saxony were my favourites of the four, I think I found their stories most captivating and I just really loved their humour, but I also enjoyed Karam and her biting wit. It took a bit more time for Wesley to grow on me, he’s quite closed off and it takes a while to really see what’s under his gang boss bravado, but I found he became more endearing to me as the book went on.

I loved the dynamic between the group, they’re four very different people, united by one shared goal and that made for very interesting interactions between them. I loved the friendship between Saxony and Tavia, but it was Karam and Tavia and the development of their friendship through the book that really caught my eye. They go from enemies to friends and that’s not something I really see a lot between two female characters in books, so I really appreciated Christo turning girl-girl hate on its head and showing how two women who start out as enemies can become friends. It was also quite interesting to see how Arjun, Karam’s Crafter friend from home, changed the dynamic of the group.

You can sometimes find with groups like these that the characters often get separated out, and you don’t always see everyone interact, but I think Christo did a great job of establishing all the different relationships between the characters in the quartet, I didn’t feel like at the end of the book, “Oh that pair didn’t really get explored” so I loved that too.

There was great diversity in this book as well, out of the four protagonists, I think three of them are POC, Karam, Saxony and Wesley, which is awesome, and Saxony and Karam are LGBTQ+ as well, which is great.

I loved how everyone’s families played into this book as well, though the parents are largely absent (classic fantasy), we get to see how everyone’s family experiences and backgrounds have played into how they got to where they are which I really liked. Though there is romance, and well done romance as well, I feel like the friendships/enmities between the group, and their differing family relationships played much more of a role than the romances which I liked. I also really loved that we got to see a platonic male/female friendship here, even if it did occur in the context where one of them is gay, because they are so ridiculously rare.

Speaking of the romance, I really loved how this book explored a couple that had been in a relationship previously, and who were broken up at the start of the book, exploring their feelings, because so often YA is about first relationships so it was quite interesting to see a pair, especially an LGBTQ+ pair who were previously a couple, exploring their new dynamic, and finding their way back to each other. I did like the slow burn romance between Wesley and Tavia as well, I thought it was well done, there, but not overshadowing the main action of the plot.

There were twists and turns throughout, I did guess one of the big ones, so I wasn’t quite as shocked when that was revealed, but there was a great twist that I definitely didn’t see coming, so I loved that (I’m going to do a blog post about twists and whether seeing them coming is a good thing or not, because I know there are some differing opinions about that in the book community).

I thought Christo was really great at capturing the emotions of these characters and making me feel something as a reader, with each of the character’s backstories and the things they have to face throughout the book, I really felt for them all, especially in one particular section towards the end, which I thought was really well done, but I don’t want to spoil things here by talking about why!

The Kingpin kind of disappointed me, I didn’t find him particularly scary as a villain, he’s just this kind of shadowy figure that we don’t really know much about, so it was hard to invest in him as this all-powerful villain. I understood the gang’s motives for wanting to kill him, and I supported them in achieving their goal, but the actual Kingpin himself, I could take or leave.

I loved the ending, that final chapter got me so excited for the next book, and waiting till next year to find out what’s going to happen next is going to be very difficult!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, the pacing & world building could have been better, but I loved the characters and writing and I am really excited for the sequel in this duology!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of Stalking Jack The Ripper, my September #RockMyTBR book, which I just finished, so my review of it should be up tomorrow.