Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) Review

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Book: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

This book was my #RockMyTBR book for June, and definitely one of the most anticipated books on the list that Twitter chose for me last year, as I had read the previous book for the same challenge last year and absolutely loved it. This one, I have to say I didn’t love quite as much. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kaz and the rest of the gang and I loved being back in Ketterdam with these characters, but I felt this time that the “job” plot was a little convoluted. In the first book, they had a clear goal, get to the Ice Court, get Kuwei out and get their money. The goal in this book is just as clear, take down Van Eck and Pekka Rollins, but I found that the plot for doing so got increasingly convoluted and it wasn’t as easy to follow because it kept changing! I also found it kind of slow. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off the most daring heist imaginable.
But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re fighting for their lives.
Double-crossed and badly weakened, they’re low on resources, allies and hope.
While a war rages on the city’s streets, the team’s fragile loyalties are stretched to breaking point.
Kaz and his crew will have to make sure they’re on the winning side… no matter what the cost.

Okay so yeah, I was kind of disappointed in this book. I loved Six of Crows, sure it was slow at the beginning, but I loved the characters, the heist was cool, the twists and turns were unpredictable but made sense and the characters were working towards a clear goal. It was a much more straightforward story.

Crooked Kingdom on the other hand? Yeah not so much. The pacing was hugely off, the chapter lengths were really uneven as were the parts, you’d have chapters of like 20+ pages and then suddenly one that was only 6! The first part had only 4 chapters, then the last part had like 12? Yeah not great. There was so much plotting and planning and scheming and then there’d be like maybe a couple of chapters with some action and then more plotting, I just didn’t feel really engaged with what was going on. Plus the job got increasingly convoluted as the whole thing went on, you had all the stuff with the silos that had basically no payoff whatsoever, the auction, getting Inej back, there was so much going on and yet at the same time it still felt like it was going really slowly? I don’t know, like I said, the pacing was just really odd.

I still loved the characters, well most of them anyway, I’m not overly keen on Kaz still, I felt like he needed to come across more stumbling blocks, the fact that he was this perfect criminal mastermind who always knew what to do when everything went wrong? Yeah, I might have liked to see a little more doubt. Plus, the whole, everything goes to shit, but it was really part of Kaz’s plan all along thing? That got old fast. For once, I would have liked it if the others had been in on Kaz’s plans as well. The great thing is though, that even if you don’t love one of the characters, you still want them there, because the dynamic of the six of them as a group is what really makes this story work, and without a single one of them, the banter would just die. I love the way Leigh Bardugo does dialogue, it really shows the dynamic of the group well, and I found myself laughing out loud more than once in this book.

Jesper and Nina are still my favourite characters and I enjoyed seeing their struggles in this book, Jesper with his gambling addiction and his relationship with his father and trying to get Kaz to forgive him after the last book and Nina with her struggles with parem and learning to use her new powers and everything. Plus the two of them really just lighten the mood when things start to get dark! I also loved that we got Wylan’s POV in this story, it was great to see him get some more development and to see his relationship with his father through his eyes.

Having said that I liked the addition of Wylan’s POV, I will admit that I felt like there were too many POVs in this book, which seems like kind of an oxymoron, but you would have one character’s POV, something exciting would happen and then we would jump to someone else and wouldn’t get back to them till like 4 or 5 chapters later. I feel like this story only really needed Wylan, Nina, Jesper and Inej’s narrations, Kaz’s and Matthias’ didn’t really add anything for me.

The plot was kind of repetitive for my taste, we’d have planning, plan goes wrong, new plan, that plan goes wrong and cycle, rinse, repeat. I feel like if we’d just had the Inej rescue at the beginning and then working towards the final plan at the end, the whole book would have been a lot more streamlined, the plot wouldn’t have been as convoluted and we could have avoided the repetitive cycle that the book got stuck in. The stakes also didn’t feel as high in this book as the other one, the Ice Court was the impossible heist, this book was just a series of mini jobs and never at any point did I feel like the characters weren’t going to make it out.

The relationships were…..well I had the same problem as in the first book, I didn’t really understand why everyone had to be paired up. Sure, the romance doesn’t overtake the plot of the book, and that was good, but I found that the only relationship I really felt invested in was Jesper and Wylan’s. Kaz and Inej, honestly I felt like Inej deserved better and watching them hide their feelings from each other just got infuriating, and Nina and Matthias? Well again, I just didn’t feel invested, although I could kind of understand more of what drew them together. I honestly preferred seeing the development of Jesper and his father’s relationship through the book than any of the romantic relationships.

Speaking of Jesper’s dad, it was really cool to see a fantasy book where a parent could actually be integrated into the plot and be useful for what the main characters are doing, just goes to show that a parent doesn’t have to be a hurdle to overcome for a YA fantasy, they can be useful for the narrative!

The backstory parts, much like in Six of Crows, I did like reading them, but it felt like they were clumsily integrated into the action and took us away from what was happening in the main plot. Inej’s backstory was particularly tough to read and just a warning for survivors of sexual assault it could be potentially triggering. Kaz’s journey with PTSD was equally intense, so again, for people who suffer from it, it could also be potentially triggering.

I probably would have appreciated the Grisha cameos more if I’d read the whole Grisha trilogy, but it was fun to see Genya, who I now know from Shadow and Bone and it did make me look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

I didn’t really understand what the point of Dunyasha was, she was basically employed as a distraction for Inej and I reckon she could have had the potential to be much more but was used in the wrong way.

I can’t really talk about certain things that happen at the end because of spoilers, but let’s just say that what happened really hurt, but it wasn’t the event itself that hurt, more the impact on the other people involved. I’ll admit, it did feel kind of gratuitous, I don’t think anything would have been lost if this particular event hadn’t happened, but it will be interesting to see how it’s dealt with in King of Scars.

The ending was kind of anticlimactic, I felt like Bardugo should have ended it with the last Kaz/Inej interaction because that was genuinely sweet and would have gone out on a high. I understand that if she had, then the whole Pekka thing would have been left unresolved, but it was clear enough that Kaz was going to get his revenge on him without us having to see it.

I wanted so much more from this book. I loved the characters, but the convoluted plot and the pacing and everything meant that this book never reached the heights of its predecessor. Having said that, I know Leigh Bardugo has said at some point that there will be a third Six of Crows book and I am so on board for that, because I still have questions and I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the Dregs yet!

My Rating: 3.5/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Nina and Inej have conversations that are not about men, Inej and Dunyasha’s conversations aren’t about men and although Nina is with Matthias when she meets the Grisha, her initial conversation with Genya and Zoya are not entirely focused on men.

My next review will be of my first YALC prep read Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (if I don’t finish A Thousand Perfect Notes first).

 

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Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) Review

23006119Book: Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

This book was my #RockMyTBR read for August. It was one of the books I was most excited for on the list that Twitter chose for me at the end of last year and probably one of the most hyped books on the list. My friend absolutely loves this book as well, and we have very similar tastes in books, so usually if she loves a book, I will too. Still, it’s always a bit nerve wracking when you read a book that’s so well loved, as you always have it in the back of your mind that you might be the black sheep who doesn’t like the book as much as everyone else. Luckily this wasn’t the case with Six of Crows, I really enjoyed it! It did take a while to get into it, as a lot of the book is purely set up for the heist-which I suppose is to be expected in a heist book, but once the action started, it was very hard to put the book down. I also loved the cast of characters Leigh Bardugo put together and their development over the course of the book. Here is a short synopsis of it:

Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:

Break into the notorious Ice Court
(a military stronghold that has never been breached)

Retrieve a hostage
(who could unleash magical havoc on the world)

Survive long enough to collect his reward
(and spend it)

Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done – and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first.

The opening was pretty engaging, but it did bother me that the opening chapter came from a character that you never hear from again in the rest of the book. I get that it sets up the whole thing with the Grisha, which is an important part of the rest of the book, but when the opening chapter feels completely separate from the rest of the story, that’s a bit of a problem for me. I mean, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story, but I feel like the opening would have made more sense if it had come from a member of Kaz’s crew rather than this weird outsider who we never hear from again.

This book is a spinoff from the author’s original Grisha series but I don’t think it’s necessary to have read them before you read this? I don’t know, for me personally, I found it easy enough to follow and the Grishas sufficiently explained that I could follow everything without having read the original trilogy, but I have heard that some people have found it confusing and it did seem as if the world building expected a certain level of prior knowledge about Grisha, so it’s up to you whether you want to read that first or this, it would probably give you a better understanding of the Grisha war (mentioned a few times) & why the Grisha are considered slaves, but I don’t think it’s necessary (although I did find that the difference between Heartrender and Healer wasn’t explained, is that something you know from the original Grisha books?).

I’d heard so much about Kaz before I read this and I was expecting to really like him, extremely clever anti-hero with a talent for thievery, he sounded a lot like an older version of Artemis Fowl, whom I loved. However I didn’t find myself loving Kaz quite as much as I hoped I would. I’m not really sure what it was, it’s not that he’s completely immoral or a bit of an ass, I’ve loved characters like that before, maybe it’s that he’s quite distant and that makes it hard to connect to him? I don’t know but I didn’t feel the same rush of love as everyone else. I did feel sorry for everything he went through and I really appreciated seeing his touch phobia represented as I can relate to that? I don’t have a phobia, but I do find close contact uncomfortable so it was nice to see that in a character.

I loved most of the rest of the characters though. Nina and Inej were without a doubt my favourites of the cast, Inej was so strong, both physically and emotionally and Nina was hilarious but also fierce (and she loved . I loved that they would put the boys in their places whenever they said or did something remotely assholey! I also loved their friendship, they’re so supportive of each other, there’s no jealousy there, no girl on girl fighting, just wonderful, supportive female friendship. We need more of this in books people! Inej is a former brothel worker but she’s never slut shamed for it. Nina is an unapologetic flirt but she’s also never shamed for it. I love this, women with agency people! This is how you do it!

Jesper was adorable, he’s kind of the comic relief of the group, and I do love the funny guy, so he had my heart instantly, but don’t let the comic facade fool you, he could kill you pretty quick with his sharpshooting skills. I loved his flirting/banter with Wylan and actually wished we could have seen more of the two of them, him and Wylan kind of get pushed to the side for Kaz/Inej and Nina/Matthias, which was a shame. Wylan was definitely my cinnamon roll for this book, he’s too precious for this world and must be protected.

I hated Matthias to begin with. He was all holier than thou and ooh I can’t love a Grisha and what you’re doing is totally wrong and was generally kind of an asshole but he undergoes some great character development through the book and by the end I actually quite liked him. Not as much as Inej or Nina but I didn’t want to hit him anymore, so I’m calling that progress!

All the characters are quite different which I loved (and the voices were distinct enough that you didn’t always have to look at the chapter heading to know who was talking), it made for a good group dynamic, although I will say that during the heist, the group is very much split into their respective pairs, so you don’t get to see them work together as much as I might have liked.

There’s great diversity in this book, you have two main POC characters (Inej and Jesper), a disabled character (Kaz), who also has PTSD, so there’s mental illness rep there too and a confirmed bisexual character (Jesper), Wylan who is strongly hinted to be gay but there’s no on page confirmation, so I’m not sure if that counts? ¬†and a fat character (Nina). They were all treated well as well, no fat-phobia, racism, ableism or homophobia as far as I could tell, so that was great. I also liked that both Matthias and Inej are religious (though obviously their Gods are different to ours) as you don’t tend to see that very often.

I didn’t love that conveniently there were six main characters, who all got paired off with each other. Must we have romance in every YA book people? Can’t we have a group of six friends doing a heist without them all being paired? The romance wasn’t a huge part of the book which I felt glad of, as the only pairing I was really rooting for was Wylan and Jesper, they were so cute and their flirty banter so great. Nina/Matthias started as a captor/captive romance, which I didn’t love, although I did like how Nina made Matthias loosen up a bit more and I think this is a ship I could get on board with given more time. Kaz/Inej, I know I was supposed to love but I didn’t really see anything there? I don’t know maybe I will in the next book. It felt like I was constantly being told that Kaz and Inej felt things for each other, but I didn’t really see it. Nina and Matthias I saw it, I didn’t always love it, but I saw it (and I loved that there was a scene with them spending the night together but it was all about survival not sex! When you’re freezing to death, nah you will not be thinking about sex!). Jesper/Wylan aren’t even an official couple but I saw it. Kaz and Inej? I didn’t really see it. And it was kind of selfish of Inej to insist she must have Kaz “without armour” when she knows about his issues with physical contact? So that was a little offputting, much as I loved Inej.

There were some really great action sequences particularly in the latter half of the book, when the pace really picks up, somewhat making up for the lag at the beginning of the book where it is mostly set up. I mean I understand set up is necessary for heist stories, I just don’t necessarily want to read several hundred pages of it!

The characters all have quite complicated backstories, which I thought was good, as it fleshed them out, but I can understand that keeping track of all these characters and their backstories could be a problem for some people! I would have liked it if Wylan and Jesper had been a little more fleshed out, we tended to only get the flashbacks from Inej, Kaz, Nina or Matthias, which meant we didn’t really get to see Wylan or Jesper’s pasts, only hear snippets of it which was a shame. The lengthy flashbacks were interesting but they did also take you out of the main story and not always at the best times.

Some of the chapters were a little overlong at the start, which contributed to the pacing problems, but this got much better once we got into the heist proper.

I wasn’t expecting how much humour there was in this book, Leigh Bardugo writes great dialogue and some awesome witty banter and I found myself laughing out loud several times during the story.

There were a lot of twists throughout the book that I didn’t see coming, which made it more entertaining. Even though it’s a foregone conclusion that they will make it out of the Ice Court (there’s a sequel so you know things will go okay), there’s still a lot of obstacles on the way to achieving their goal. On occasion, I did feel like the story was trying to be a bit too clever though and I got a little confused? I don’t know, there are just some things that weren’t really explained as much as I would have liked. I also felt that there were times when everything was a little too neat? Saying exactly where would be a spoiler but there were definitely things that worked out just a little too well for the characters that it wasn’t quite believable.

The world building was pretty good, with the Grisha and the parem and all the different cultures of the world and everything, but I still felt like there could have been more? I don’t know, it’s probably just me, I love world building so I want to know everything! The setting was really cool, all dark and gritty, I hope we see more of Ketterdam in the next book.

Leigh Bardugo’s writing was really good, but I definitely preferred her dialogue to her description, I couldn’t really put a reason on it, I think it’s probably just my personal preference for dialogue.

The characters read as much older than they were, aside from Wylan and Jesper, I had trouble believing they were all teenagers, it felt like I was reading about a bunch of 20+ adults.

Van Eck was totally awful, I wanted to punch him!

The book tackles a lot of difficult issues, gambling problems, prostitution, death, drugs, PTSD etc and I thought Bardugo did this well and with sensitivity.

The end I had problems with. Not only was it anti-climactic, but the fact that it was only the girls in trouble at the end smacked of a little subtle sexism to me, which rubbed me the wrong way, the author had been doing so well for most of the book, so it made me a bit made that even a book that has really good rep and all of the sexism is countered, had some subtle sexism in it’s ending. I’m not sure if the author was meaning to, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.

I really enjoyed this book, it had it’s problems, but even with the pacing problems, it was an engaging read with a great cast of characters, good diversity, some awesome twists and turns and an interesting magical system, I look forward to seeing more of these characters in the next book!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book, Resurrection.