Published by Indigo Books. For more information, click here.
Review by Emma Burridge
In this highly anticipated sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s New York Times Bestseller Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom sees the gang back together and up to their usual tricks. Continuing on from the shocking climax of the previous novel (no spoilers, promise!), the second outing in Bardugo’s young-adult fantasy duology focuses its story in Ketterdam, the mercantile city that is actually the den of iniquity and injustice which allowed gangs such as The Dregs to flourish.
Heading The Dregs is the incomparable Kaz Brekker, aka ‘Dirtyhands’, a gang master like no other – his wit is as sharp as a thwack from his cane and he employs both in his quest to rule the roost. You cannot help but root for Kaz and his gang of misfits, all of whom have varying levels of morality. Matthias, the stern Fjerdan witchhunter now considered traitor; Nina, the Grisha Heartrender capable of choking a person without lifting a finger; Inej, an acrobat whose ability to steal silently into homes has led to her being called ‘The Wraith’; Jesper, the gambling sharpshooter whose aim is as deadly as his sarcasm; and Wylan, the shy and puppy-like boy who has a penchant for explosives.
All of these characters are idiosyncratically rendered, honed by Bardugo’s storytelling technique wherein each chapter is told from a different point-of-view. Such a device meshes perfectly with the heist genre in which the sleight of hand orchestrated by the gang’s boss must appear improbable but not impossible to its audience. By narrating surprising moments of action through the eyes of a character on the fringes of the trick, a reader is never granted Kaz’s inside knowledge of how the trick is performed. With this, Bardugo prevents the narrative’s climactic points from simply appearing as a convoluted deus ex machina, instead having readers impressed by the gang’s nerve.
Successfully telling the tale of a heist is just as tricky as pulling off one; achieving that balance between showing and concealing the trick is key – it is something that the Ocean’s films perfectly visualise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bardugo took inspiration from Ocean’s Eleven when plotting her own fantasy heist. The dexterity with which she manages to move all the pieces of the puzzle prove how far she has progressed as an author from her previous Grishaverse trilogy. Now, Bardugo presents readers with a rich and complex world of differing nations and truly distinct cultures and races.
Ultimately, however, Crooked Kingdom marks a shift in tone from the first book – whereas Six of Crows really was a heist novel, Crooked Kingdom is more insular as the action resituates to the gang’s native Ketterdam and delves deeper into its own underbelly. However, it’s still the same gang and the same daring that made readers root for their success in Six of Crows – as the book’s tagline phrases it, “when you can’t beat the odds, change the game.” Having upped the stakes with the shocking concluding chapter of Six of Crows, Bardugo has took a gamble with Crooked Kingdom that well and truly pays off for avid fans of the Grishaverse.