If you’ve read this then you know that I am a pretty recent but devoted fan of Leigh Bardugo’s. After reading Six of Crows my life became all things Grishaverse. I followed a bunch of blogs on Tumblr, followed Bardugo on twitter and tumblr, and have fully committed to being SoC trash until the day I die.
And quite possibly after. Catch me in the afterlife with a book lamp and a harp trying to tell you why Matthias didn’t deserve to go out like that*.
I tried to wait until I had actually written my SoC review to buy the next book, but… Then I tried to wait until I had read something else to read before I started Crooked Kingdom, I didn’t want to read the books too close together and get things all confused. I didn’t manage. I tried to read something else but my soul physically rejected it and I succumbed to my Grishaverse craving.
Bardugo outdid herself. She wrote a book that had everything a good heist novel needs and more, and then, she wrote a SEQUEL to said amazing heist book, and made it even better!
I can probably count on one hand the books I’ve read that have sequels as good as or even equal to the first novel. It just doesn’t happen, it isn’t done. And when it’s done it’s done so amazingly that I just have to sit back and put my head in my hands and think about the kind of life I want to live now that I’ve read this book**.
We ended SoC with Inej being kidnapped by the double crossing Jan van Eck. The first part of the book is the gang tirelessly performing mini-heist after mini-heist that’s all supposed to set up the foundation for Inej’s rescue. Everyone’s tired and stressed and Kaz is obviously freaking out about Inej getting kidnapped even though he won’t admit it.
One thing Bardugo is good at is pacing. She never lingers too long on any detail or particular scene, but you never feel rushed while reading. She’s great at painting a picture and setting a scene and then letting that scene has its moment, and the moving on. It creates this sort of timeless feeling, when everything about the book seems as if it’s in it’s perfect place and you can’t help but read the whole thing in one sitting without even realizing***.
Each character and their story arc is noted and worked through carefully. Each character gets to have their own specific moment of weakness or strength or cleverness. They all get to deal with the weight of their lives, they all have to face their fears and the things that they’ve been ignoring since the first book.
For example, Jesper Fahey and his father. Jan van Eck is bringing the authorities into his way with Kaz Brekker and the gang, and he even stoops so low as to bring Colm Fahey, Jesper’s father, into Kerch to deal with the debt that Jesper put onto the farm. Now, Jesper has to deal with the fact that his gambling habit has put his father’s life’s work in jeopardy, and he has to tell his father the truth he’s been hiding for so long.
While Jesper deals with that, Wylan is reconciling his father with the man he grew up with and the man currently hunting him and his friends down. He manages to finally visit his mother, thanks to info from Kaz, and he realizes that his mother had been alive all along. In a flashback we learn that one day Wylan’s father told him he was sending him to a music academy far away. In actuality Van Eck had his hired men attempt to kill Wylan, who only barely manages to escape with his life. He finds refuge in The Barrel.
Finding out that his father literally sent his mother to a mental institution, and then stripped her of her money and land, finally allows Wylan to let go of the guilt and fear he feels for his father and fight back. He finally accepts his place as a member of the Dregs and a product of the Barrel. He finally accepts himself and in doing so he manages to finally best his father, who’d always thought of him as mentally challenged.
The entire book is filled with these moments of beautiful growth through pain and self realization. Not a single character manages to escape this novel without growing and I honestly applaud Bardugo for managing to do that. The story was entertaining but that part is easy. Any writer can write something entertaining but to manage to write depth and life as well is rare. I’ve certainly never seen it done well in a YA book.
Kaz Brekker has to deal with his vulnerability; the confusing feelings he has for Inej and the crippling affect his past has on his present. Kaz in dominated by his need for revenge by his need to never be the one to die. Kaz is a survivor who has forgotten how to live, and a con man who had once been a victim. Kaz had lost everything to Pekka Rollins’ scam, and he dedicated his life to taking him down. In this book his in faced with failure, with being out thought and out maneuvered and he has to face that helplessness again.
Inej is his rock, whether he was willing to admit it or not. During the portion of the book where Jan Van Eck had possession of Inej, he was a man on a mission to get her back. When faced with the possibility of her leaving to fulfill her dream of taking down slaver ships, he thinks of all the ways to get her to stay, he thinks of the relief he’ll feel having such a weakness away from all of his enemies. He feels jealous at her ability to connect with others, and his inability to move past his issues and give her a reason to stay.
In the first book we learn that Kaz is repulsed by touch due to a pretty traumatic event in his childhood****. Inej realizes he has a problem with skin to skin contact, and do to her own trauma*****, she doesn’t know if she’d want anything really physical from a relationship from Kaz either. Leigh manages to keep and asexual Kaz Brekker and a demisexual Inej Ghafa by having them agree to a relationship, that’s so far having them touch hands and talk strategy with one another.
Which I love. I feel like we don’t have enough asexual characters in the world, and YA lit. I think showing that two people can have a loving and fulfilling relationship with platonic intimacy is great.
Nina recovers from her encounter with jurda panem, and she and Matthias finally realize their love for one another and get together! Which doesn’t last nearly as long as I would have liked it to******, but it was everything I dreamed nonetheless. Matthias as a character was probably the one I struggled to like the most in the duology. NOt because he wasn’t a perfectly lovely character with a lot of strong chracter traits, but because he was a racist that had participated in and believed in for a long time that the genocide of another race of people was jusitified.
It really stuck with me how much I couldn’t like Matthias because of his background, and reading his parts in the book was very bitter sweet because on the one hand, I’m getting a look inside the mind of a racist. And on the other hand I’m realizing that his racism and hatred comes from a place not of hatred but of brainwashing and fear. I understand what it means to fear the work of a god in someone who looks just like you. And I get the fear it takes to truly make someone hate someone and want to hurt them.
I get it, but I do not forgive it. Matthias as a character had to go through a lot of growing pains to unlearn his racism, which was in another way bitter sweet, because I wish it was that easy. In my country, things aren’t going to well for a lot of us, because of fear from those in power, and the apathy it takes to not care ab out those who will suffer form your policies.
Matthias dying hurt me so much because he genuinely wanted to enact change. He wanted to go back to Fjerda and reform his country. I admired that so much and tghat’s what made me fall in love with Matthias Hevlar. It’s one thing to unlearn your racism, it’s a whole other thing to learn from that racism and then decide to teach others. That’s what being an ally means. I’m happy Nina will continue to spread Matthias’ message, I’m happy she will take her memory of him and enact the change she and her people need.
I’m going to end this review here in memory of Matthias Hevlar, someone who truly deserved to make it until the end.