Summertime reading catch-up: Leigh Bardugo’s ‘Crooked Kingdom’

Last week I finished up my first year in my master’s program. I celebrated by doing absolutely nothing. I walked the dog. I drank many cups of coffee (that I could enjoy and not just pound in the hopes they would keep me awake). I watched the final game of the Stanley Cup finals (don’t ask me how a Massachusetts native started cheering for the Pittsburgh Penguins; I can’t answer that question) and I spent hours burning through Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom.

I have been trying to read this book since it first came out in September of 2016. However, due to a winning combination of moving three times, school, stress, and work, I hadn’t been able to carve out a couple hours to enjoy this novel.

Crooked Kingdom is the sequel to Six of Crows and picks up where the first left off. While the novel takes place in the same universe as Bardugo’s other Grisha books, those do not need to be read first. And although the duology is marketed as YA, it’s great for anyone who enjoys multi-point-of-view books filled with action, mystery, and incredibly human, multi-faceted characters. I once tricked my partner into reading Six of Crows over protests of, “It’s not that I won’t read Young Adult, it’s just that I usually dislike the themes those books deal with.” When I wrote about this on my blog, Bardugo herself commented, cackling. It was a peak book nerd moment.

According to Crooked Kingdom’s GoodReads page, “After pulling off a seemingly impossible heist in the notorious Ice Court, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker feels unstoppable. But life is about to take a dangerous turn, and with friends who are among the deadliest outcasts in Ketterdam city [loosely based on merchant-era Amsterdam], Kaz is going to need more than luck to survive in this unforgiving underworld.”

Someone is scheming, someone is lying, someone is thieving, and someone is eating waffles. Possibly, these things are happening all at once.

Horrible things have happened and continue to happen to these young characters, who come from all across the globe. A boy comes to terms with the horrible actions of his father. A girl stolen from her home country is trying to earn her way back. A boy seeks revenge for the ghosts of his past. All this while working together to get the large sum of money they were promised.

I’m being purposefully vague here, by the way. You just need to go read the book. All these events and their effects don’t feel overwrought; they simply add to the distinctions that make these characters who they are. At its heart, Crooked Kingdom is character-driven; despite all the action and secrecy, it’s about the nuances and unique qualities of its characters. While the action drives the novel and adds layers to the book, the greatest pieces of this were following the people and the decisions they made.

Bardugo does justice to grief.
She does justice to trauma.
She does justice to queer characters.
She does justice to disabled characters.

Books like these are almost a relief to read. I feel like it’s been too long since I’ve been able to read a book like this that I could finish in one sitting. There are so many threads holding this book together, so many characters and plots, yet Bardugo handles them in such a way that the reader never feels overburdened. There are moments of tense, nerve-wracking, plot-driven action-scenes; there are other, quieter moments when characters interact and are allowed to be tender. The effect is one of feeling your heart race one moment and the next feeling it clench in heartache and joy.