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: Bad Boy by Elliot Wake

★★★☆☆

**ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

I have mixed feeling about this book. I seriously couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, so perhaps I went into it with my hopes too high. First things first: I’ve only read Cam Girl so far, and if I had known that this was a continuation of several characters from Wake’s previous novels (published under the name Leah Raeder), then I probably would have elected to read the books in order. It doesn’t really affect your understanding of the novel, but I think that now that I’ve seen the characters “down the road”, it may affect the way I read his other novels, Black Iris and Unteachable.

bad-boyThat aside, I flew through Bad Boy in about two days. The writing was more of the flowery, poetic style I had grown accustomed to in Cam Girl, although in my opinion it was a bit more subtle in this book compared to CG (which makes sense because the narrator in CG, Vada, is an artist). There definitely wasn’t as much ~sexy time~ as in CG either, but what there is is as swoon-worthy as I’ve come to expect. Basic synopsis: Ren, the main character, is transgender and makes a living off of vlogging about his transition on YouTube. When he’s not on camera, he’s a vigilante with Black Iris, scaring some sense into abusive, misogynistic trolls who threaten women online.

My biggest issue with this book is that it’s so heavy handed and laden down with explanations; about feminism, about misogyny, about transitioning — everything. The explanations of concepts sometimes detracted from the story in such a way that I would skip them. As someone already familiar with a lot of these ideas, I found it to be overkill. A large majority of the book felt more like it was the author teaching the reader what feminism is instead of showing it in action. In fact, at least two of the characters aren’t very feministic at all. Ingrid is by far the worst; she was just a mean person and I didn’t enjoy any of the scenes with her. Cam Girl has this “co-dependency” friendship angle as well, but where I could understand why Ellis and Vada didn’t want to be apart, I seriously couldn’t understand why Ren didn’t drop Ingrid like a hot coal. She was nasty, oppressive, invalidating his identity at every turn—it often came as a shock to me as a reader, because she was supposed to be his “best friend”. Honestly, it seemed the only reason she was in Ren’s life was [[MILD SPOILER]] as a plot device.

Biggest takeaway: Bad Boy included a lot of sections labeled “vlog #__” where Ren would talk directly to the audience as if through a vlog. Especially in the parts where he’s describing how certain things work (for instance, the vlog on detransitioning), it felt much more like I was reading a how-to article rather than a book. Because of this style, the plot felt shaky and strung-together by these vlog sections, which made it seem almost as if the book was written solely to explain trans* people rather than to have a cohesive book featuring a transgender person. I understand that some readers might need some extra education on the subject, but that’s what Google is for.

And I know I shouldn’t keep comparing this to his other books, but I likedCam Girl a lot more (of course, that’s not my reason for rating this 3/5, but it bears mentioning). With Bad Boy, I guessed a lot of the plot twists about halfway through the book, and I had a hunch who the “bad guy” was as well. This made the eventual reveal a lot less powerful, for me at least.

Don’t get me wrong; I still really liked the book (although I wish Ellis was more prominent, tbh; she’s my favorite character and the one I identify with the most, and I also want to kiss her right on the face). Wake’s books feature a great cast of lgbtqa+ characters, with lots of lessons to be learned by the reader and truths for them to think about. Seriously. This is stuff that will make you question your own identity and sexuality. And I love books like that; books that make me think, that make me wonder and question and realize truths about myself and other that I may not have known before. I’m just a fan of subtlety. The lesson learning was heavy inCam Girl as well, but Bad Boy seemed much more heavy-handed with it.

Bad Boy comes out December 6, 2016. Go give it a pre-order if you’re interested!