Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★☆

This will be a semi short/messy review since I already did a proper one for Six of Crows here.

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LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK. LOOK AT IT.

This was super enjoyable; I read it in the car, at work, till two in the morning, in the bathroom, while stuffing Chipotle into my face, etc. (None of those things at the same time, though, just to be clear.) BUUUTTTTTT, for the sake of honesty, it didn’t blow me away, even though I’ll say I loved the duology as a whole and Bardugo is a god damn genius when it comes to crafting characters.

To begin, there was a loooooot of deus ex machina going on here. I mean truly every scene where the odds were totally beyond their scope, where everything was hopeless, one of the characters would find this new power inside them and it would work! perfectly! each time! For instance, [SPOILERS BELOW]

  • Jesper learned that one of the reasons he might be such a good shot is because he’s a Fabrikator. Cool idea, and I’d assumed from the beginning that that’s why he was a sharpshooter, but then he went on to make an impossible shot where the bullet actually curved in midair around a corner and hit the person in the chest. SO YEAH it was cool, but like… too cool and too convenient. I have a problem with that.
  • Nina learns that after using jurda parem, she can’t control her powers like she used to. Then, against impossible odds, she finds she’s able to control dead bodies. Which was super gross to begin with, but she uses these CORPSES to not only defeat her enemies but then miraculously carry a net out under Inej right when she falls off a grain silo (this probably sounds super weird if you haven’t read the book, lmao). I’ve read other reviews for Six of Crows that mention the total lack of morals that these characters have, and I hadn’t had a problem with it because that’s the story, and I’ve read Game of Thrones which is a hundred times worse. People are sick and self-serving for the most part (can you tell I’m an optimist?), so these lawless characters didn’t make me grimace. But this… using dead people as props and controlling them… I had been gobbling up the pages and then that happened and I was like

It threw me off to such an extent that I wondered if I could recover from it and still enjoy the book. There are other instances too, but those are two that really annoyed me. And I mean, it wasn’t TOTALLY terrible because inklings of these abilities were sprinkled through earlier on in the story, but it was still just cringe-worthy in my opinion.

Other than that, the book was good but long and rambling in a lot of ways. It didn’t have a clear plot like Six of Crows; it was more a jumble of a bunch of Kaz’s failed plans and then the gang recovering from the previous heist and doing something else to get their money back. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun to read, but it seemed like the book was a lot longer than it really needed to be and like the author couldn’t come up with one central heist to cover the length. It was a lot of back and forth, and that constant planning, executing, OOPS WE’VE BEEN BACKSTABBED or OOPS IT’S A TRAP, failing, replanning got dull after a while, to the point where I was skimming the more politic-driven scenes to get to the parts I cared about, aka the action and the kissing. (I’m not too ashamed.)

Last but not least, perhaps my BIGGEST issue was (pretty major spoiler ahead so don’t click unless you’ve read the book) Matthias’ death. It was, to put it shortly, completely random, out of place, and wholly unnecessary. It added absolutely nothing to the plot, it was brought on by a random character that was never explained or even reintroduced or ANYTHING, and it was just hard to read because of how forced it was. I have this very strong feeling that Matthias was killed off because someone, probably an editor or something, was like, “Listen, your readers are probably expecting one of these guys to die in the end, so we’ve gotta kill someone off. Who’s your least favorite?” The problem is that he was killed off in the most random way possible, like the heist was done, everything was falling into place, but NOPE: [insert random character death here]. I HATED IT. HATED IT.

Honestly though, the terribleness of those few things was BY FAR made up for by the adorable romances between Wylan/Jesper and Kaz/Inej, the wonderful character development, and the exquisite world-building. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are some of the most believably invented characters I’ve come across lately. I’ve been so fed up with YA books lately; it’s all so boring and manufactured. But this wasn’t at all. I couldn’t contain the ~~feels~~. Also, Wylan and Jesper honestly overtook Kaz and Inej as my favorite pairing in this, and I ended up liking Wylan even more than Kaz.

Okay, enough fangirling. GO READ THIS DUOLOGY. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.

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Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★★

God. Damn. I love Leigh Bardugo so much.

I went into this book with such impossibly high expectations. I mean, a band of ragtag orphans, thieves, and cutthroats; an impossible heist (even the word ‘heist’ gets me riled); elemental magic and mayhem and unrequited love—it’s literally my book wishlist all wrapped up in one. How could I not love it?

Even the books themselves are freaking gorgeous. They have dyed black and red edges. I cry.

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And with my employee discount, I nabbed a beautiful boxset at B&N for $20. Can’t say no to that!

So to recap: everything I’ve ever wanted in a fantasy book + unending media hype + one of my favorite authors + books as beautiful on the outside as they are potentially on the inside = insanely high expectations.

So the fact that I, though seemingly impossible to please, came out of this book glowing with the perfection of it all, is noteworthy.

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Art by @kevinwada

Bardugo has crafted an awesome, diverse cast of characters that you can’t help but root for. Each character has a defining characteristic, something that makes them memorable instantly. Bardugo splits the story up masterfully between them all, with each chapter told from one of their POVs (except Wylan, for some reason). This is a storytelling technique few authors can pull off, so it could’ve ended badly, but those defining characteristics I mention aren’t abused and they never feel gimmicky, so the characters don’t come across as caricatures. Each of them is wonderfully fleshed out, with vivid pasts and individual problems they need to solve.

Did I mention that Kaz Brekker is the newest addition to my “book boyfriends” list as well as my “favorite characters ever” list? I mean… look at him. I have a type, ladies and gentlemen, and apparently it’s pale, emotionally-stunted pickpockets.

 

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Six of Crows never never got stale, and it never failed to surprise. Every time I thought, “That’s it, they’re done for,” Bardugo pulled out another risky maneuver or cunning plan. When you read enough YA fantasy, plot twists can start to get a lot less twisty; you realize that half of these books have “twists” that are the same across the board. Not so with Bardugo. She just has a way of making everything fresh and exciting, the same way she did with the original Grisha trilogy.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this duology, and I highly, highly recommend Six of Crows to anyone with a book wishlist like mine. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★★

I started Shadow and Bone right after reading An Ember in the Ashes. This was a big mistake; I had a (lovely) book hangover from AEitA, so attempting to delve into a whole new fantasy world had me comparing and judging right off the bat. So I knocked out 60 pages or so, got bored, and set it aside for a few weeks while I cleansed my palette. And once I picked it up again, boom. I couldn’t put it down, and gobbled it up in one night and the next afternoon.

The premise of this book was really cool; there are a group of people called Grisha who study the Small Sciences, or how certain matter or elements interact with each other. Grisha are able to control or “call” these small particles and manipulate matter, the elements, or even the blood inside a creature’s body. There are the Corporalki (The Order of the Living and the Dead), the Etherealki (The Order of Summoners), and the Materialki (The Order of Fabrikators), and all of them are led by one man: The Darkling. All this wrapped up in a wild, desolate, Russian-inspired setting, and you have a hell of a start.

Now, some books are not life-changing books, but there’s something about them that makes me cast any small issues aside and hold them close. Shadow and Bone was exactly that: it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t make me question my existence or blow my mind, but it was fucking awesome and different and exciting and that made up for it.

I mean, “girl finds out she has special, one-of-a-kind power, gets a makeover and is treated like royalty, then somehow masters power and defeats enemy single-handed” is not a very unique concept. It’s been done a million times, but the reason is because when done correctly, it’s glorious. Potent. Spine-tingling. That’s what this book did to me — it actually gave me goosebumps two separate times while reading. I honestly don’t know if that’s ever happened to me before, but it rocked. The plot twists were as twisty as they come — I didn’t guess any of them (this is weird, because I almost always guess at least one big plot twist), and they surprised the crap out of me.

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Alina Starkov. Art by Nicole McEvoy. Click through for source.

While the plot itself was very YA-y and cliched at times, the writing is what blew me away. Seriously, it was great. The main character, Alina, is one of the coolest MCs I’ve come across, because she was so utterly believable and real, and I connected with her almost instantly. She was sarcastic, head-over-heels for her best friend (been there, done that!), blunt, and flawed, and her dialogue/narration was often smirk-worthy in its realism. Also, just sayin’, the smoochin’ scenes were A+++. 😉

I’m so, so excited to read the sequel of this. I already ordered the second and third books of the trilogy and I’m trying not to die of anticipation. Leigh Bardugo, you’ve made a fangirl out of me.P.S.: You can take the “Join the Grisha” quiz HERE on Leigh Bardugo’s website to find out which Grisha you’d be! I got:

CORPORALNIK: brave, belligerent, and cocky. Corporalki undergo the most rigorous training of all the Grisha. Heartrenders are always ready for a fight. Healers use their powers to repair injury and treat sickness. Which are you? Report to the Little Palace for further testing.