YA Fantasy

My Review: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: September 20th, 2016
Number of Pages: 560 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Warning, this post contains spoilers from the first title! Continue reading at your own risk, you’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Six of Crows – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

It warms a reader’s dry, cynical heart whenever they discover a new favorite author along with all of their brilliant work. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but finding those books that are so much fun to dive right into, to enjoy the craft so much that someone has created, to be fully immersed in the story and have it inspire someone like me to create something that could maybe someday come close to it and continue the cycle with the next generation.

I can honestly back this book up with my high rating because it simply is amazing…It has a little bit of everything, and evoked so much emotion from me; both elated and devastated. I’m only relieved to see that it’s not just me, but almost everyone else who has reviewed this book is absolutely blown away by it. Seriously, the lowest score someone gave it on Goodreads was 3-stars…No one gave it a 1, only one person gave it a 2 star-rating, but they didn’t really justify it, so I don’t count it as being actually real…It’s seriously such epic perfection, but I still have to refrain from giving it a perfect 5-star rating because the author is a cruel, cruel woman who emotionally traumatized me and left me in a heap on the floor as I read a certain part. Seriously…I was shook, and I was NOT okay for some time after this (but I mean this in the best way possible!)

I found myself questioning how in the hell Leigh Bardugo was going to outdo herself with this next title in her Duology (now being turned into a series!) when the first book was so flippin’ impressive! She had created one of the most diverse, fabulous cast of characters in any book I’d ever read with such distinct personalities and voices, and we learn even more about them as the story continued! They are all so complex and fleshed out and truly change as the story developed. It was a masterwork of character design and development, and I want to know the moment Leigh Bardugo ever decides to teach a masterclass on how to write. I want to hear her methods and tips on the subject; any sort of money I have, it’s hers if she wants it!

One thing I wish I got more out of within the story was the surprise appearance of characters that make a short, but meaningful appearance. I’m not going to spoil exactly who they are, but I can say that they are some important players, and are some memorable characters from Leigh Bardugo’s other books. I had not read them before reading this title, so the shocking reveal of it all was kind of lost on me, but made me want to go back a step with the author’s work and check out her Shadow and Bone trilogy.

I personally recommend everyone read those, along with these, before the Netflix series comes out; I don’t know if there’s an official release date quite yet, but I seriously can’t wait to binge the day it comes on!

What It’s About:

Continuing straight off the cliffhanger ending of the previous book, Kaz and the others must rescue Inej from being kidnapped by Wylan’s corrupt father.

The other main plot is how they have Kuwei Yul Bo, the son of the creator of a powerful drug named Jurda Pardem that can control the Grisha: magical beings of the realm. With his father actually revealed to be dead, he is the only person alive who knows not only how to create the drug, but also how to destroy it, which puts a gigantic, gargantuan sized target on his back. Soon every crime boss, gangster, royal, criminal, military general, merchant, and mercenary in this dangerous world are drawn towards Ketterdam to take him away, but Kaz and his gang aren’t going to be giving him up all that easily…

What I liked:

  1. The Surprise Cameos! Mentioned earlier in this post, Bardugo shocks us with some memorable characters that some readers may recognize from other titles of hers later on in this book. I had not read her Shadow and Bone trilogy when I read Crooked Kingdom, so while the shock value was entirely lost on me, what it did reveal is that not only is her work is all connected within the same universe, it’s all happening simultaneously side by side at the same time! I love it when authors do this kind of thing and give fans little surprises to gush about; it made me want to explore other books even more! Going off of that, the author leaves the ending up in the air quite a lot of characters. It seemed like that meant we’re getting many more titles; some within this story, and even more from a new set of books she’ll write.
  2. Different Characters Get More Attention! In the previous title, we learn quite a bit about a few of the character’s backstories and how they came to be who they are before the events within the story, and in this title, we learn more about the characters we didn’t learn as much about before! It shows the author’s love of her characters to make sure she gave them each and every one of them the attention they deserve. Sure, some people could complain that they didn’t get it sooner, but as a writer, I say that everything doesn’t need to happen at once. Let it slowly reveal itself or it’ll just feel congested, clogged and not as enjoyable of a read! Good things come to those who wait!
  3. The Group’s Dynamic! I believe I mentioned this before in my previous review, but I’m serious; the alliance between the main characters and their relationships amongst each other within their group is something so pure and so much fun to read! The banter, the witty quips, the clashing personalities, the emotion, and even how they still sound like teenagers somehow within a fantasy-genre setting. Its truly a huge reason why this series is a new-found favorite of mine!
  4. A Particular Scene with Kaz! It was heavy, it was raw, it was emotional and it wasn’t something I’d really ever expect him to do, which is why it’s such a memorable scene! The shock of experiencing someone doing something that’s so unlike their character, their moral integrity, everything they stand for are great moments in literature and entertainment. While I’m even on the subject of Kaz, it’s also such a highlight to have him be the kind of character that always seems to have one step ahead of everyone. Everything could be going to hell, fires everywhere, death seems certain; Kaz will just come out of nowhere with a telling smirk that says all according to plan! What’s even better, is how at a certain point, no one is even surprised any longer; they just expect it from him!
  5. Literally Everything I said I liked about the First Title! Go see my review of Six of Crows (Link is towards the top), and every aspect I said I liked about it continues into this sequel!
  6. The Inner Conflicts Between Inej and Kaz! Inej was captured by his enemies, and the time she’s taken hostage, she questions whether Kaz will come rescue her, but also, if he’s rescuing her because he cares about her, or if he simply only wants her for her abilities. A confrontation on this inner struggle is angsty as hell, but man does it add an emotional punch and show us sides of characters we never thought we’d see!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Certain Character’s Death…Yeah…someone dies and I’m not okay about it. It left such an emotion-fueled book hangover for me, I never thought I’d get out of that depressive slump!

Conclusion:

Leigh Bardugo may have created what may be the closest thing to the perfect novel. I know this review may seem pretty one-sided, but it’s incredibly hard to find anything to really critique about this title!

Check out other reviews; the only people who (attempt) to criticize it are the ones who were even more traumatized by it than me, the ones who were even more upset about certain events that take place, so because they cried, they took it as them not liking the story, which is so bogus…Shouldn’t a story be celebrated if it evokes that much out of you? Let’s worry less about trigger warnings in fiction and celebrate the fact that something of this magnitude has been created for us to discover and enjoy and inspire!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: The Six Of Crows Series by Leigh Bardugo

In Bardugo’s fantasy realm of the Grisha, supernatural beings with the ability to manipulate different elements, are in danger as a drug has been developed that means deadly consequences, and the only person who knows the cure has been taken prisoner inside the impenetrable fortress, the Ice Court, in the Frozen northern land of Fjerda. Can Kaz Brekker and his recruits of thieves, assassins, and runaways pull off the biggest heist in history?

To see my review of book #1: Six of Crows – Click here!

To see my review of book #2: Crooked Kingdom – Click here!

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Kaz Brekker: Ben Barnes

Image courtesy of bleedingcool.com

I mean, does this image alone NOT give you Kaz Brekker vibes? Sure, Ben Barnes seems older for this role and he’s officially casted as the Darkling on the Netflix show, but I’d made this casting choice before the show was even a thought, and I think he could perfectly exude that dark and twisty vibe that Kaz constantly exudes as he plots against his enemies. The former Prince Caspian, Westworld, & The Punisher actor, in my mind is perfect for this role!

Inej Ghafa: Kelly Gale

Image courtesy of weheartit.com

I know this won’t be a popular choice, but imagined Inej with a really particular look, and this Indian/Australian model looked very much like what I imagined “The Wraith” to appear as.

Wylan Van Eck: Daniel Sharman

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

I know this may also not be a popular choice, but I’ve always seen Daniel play the arrogant bad-boy in The Originals, and Teen Wolf, but I’m curious to see him play a role thats the total opposite of that! Let’s stop typecasting, yeah?

Jasper Fahey: Kendrick Sampson

Image courtesy of the actor’s Twitter profile

He’s a go-to POC guy for me, I know…but I imagined what him and Daniel Sharman looked like together and I couldn’t help but ship it! See him make appearances in shows like How to Get Away with Murder, The Vampire Diaries, and Supernatural to name a few!

Matthias Helvar: Wyatt Nash

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

This guy sneaks around and becomes a side character for SO many shows that I watch! Catch him in Netflix’s Dear White People, GLOW, and he also was recently added to Riverdale! Others may go for a Kellan Lutz type of guy, but remember that Matthias has been in prison for some time when we meet him, the dude isn’t going to be shredded or jacked, he’s going to have thinned out a bit, but still be just as blond and handsome as we believe!

Nina Zenik: Robyn Lawley

Image courtesy of fashionmodeldirectory.com

Nina was the hardest character to cast for this group! There aren’t a whole lot of plus-sized actresses or models that I felt matched Nina’s physical description and also could possibly exude her sensual confidence! I initially had plus-size model Tara Lynn as a casting choice, but now I’ve updated to this other plus-sized model. She’s Australia’s top plus-sized model, and has even been featured in Ralph Lauren ads!

Pekka Rollins: Aidan Gillen

Image courtesy of superstarsbio.com

Leader of the Den Lions, an enemy gang to the Dregs lead by Kaz; he’s an overall douche-wad with some serious power in Ketterdam, so I thought the man who played the slimiest character in Game of Thrones, Littlefinger, would be perfect for this role!

Jan Van Eck: Martin Henderson

Image courtesy of UPI.com

Another powerful man in Ketterdam, he’s Wylan’s father and one of the most influential merchants in this series. While being a complete asshole, the man is still described as being pretty easy on the eyes, and after watching him in Grey’s Anatomy, I thought this Kiwi actor from New Zealand would be a good choice!

Tante Heleen: Betty Gilpin

Image courtesy of deadline.com

After enjoying her in the Women’s wrestling show on Netflix GLOW, I thought she’d be a great person to cast as the despicable brothel owner who used to physically torment Inej back when she was a sex slave.

Per Haskell: Skeet Ulrich

Image courtesy of weheartit.com

The former leader of the Dregs before Kaz took over; he’s a moody, drunken, greedy man who’s a shell of his former glory. Watching him in play Southside Serpent Gang Leader FP Jones in the CW’s Riverdale, Skeet seemed like a safe choice. I’d just ask him to turn it down on the rugged charm and endearing fatherly moments!

Jarl Brum: Tom Hardy

Image courtesy of nytimes.com

Leader of the Drüskelle (the Fjerdan organization formed to eradicate Grisha), and Mathias’s former mentor, he’s a ruthless witch hunter who’s extremely dangerous! Tom Hardy is an incredibly versatile actor, and I think he’d be great with playing this military general.

Kuwei Yul-Bo: BooBoo Stewart

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Jordie Rietvold: Ben Schnetzer

Credit to owner

He was the overall favorite to play Kaz’s older brother in almost EVERY other fancast I found, So I thought I’d continue the bandwagon because I do see it immensely.

Dunyasha Lazareva: Alyssa Campanella

Image courtesy of celebuzz.com

She’s a gorgeous, scarlet-haired assassin who’s known as “The White Blade.” Pekka Rollins and Jan Van Eck hired personally as a lethal contender to go up against Inej, who believes her to be her shadow; her other half, the flip side of the coin, the ying to her yang, you get the picture. She’s not an actress, but the former Miss USA winner sure looks the part!

Genya Safin: Miguelle Landry

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

Another gorgeous redhead, this Tailor Grisha makes a surprise appearance in Crooked Kingdom along with some other noteworthy characters from the Shadow and Bone trilogy! Again, not an actual actress, but give this model some ember colored contacts, and she’d for sure look the part!

Nikolai Lantsov: Lucas Bloms

Image courtesy of adonmag.com

Oh Nikolai…one of Leigh Bardugo’s masterpieces, besides the Six of Crows duology in general, and this male model could definitely take on the role of Sturmhond!

Zoya Nazyalenksy: Shay Mitchell

Credit to owner

Shay Mitchell is a personal favorite of mine since I’d first seen her in Pretty Little Liars, and she wowed me too when she was in the first season of You on Netflix. She’s so absolutely gorgeous, and just throw on a pair of blue eye contacts and she’d be a perfect Zoya!

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Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy

My Review: Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: September 29th 2015
Number of Pages: 465 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

Perhaps one of the most hyped up books in YA literature, part of me was worried to open the pages of this book and have the possibility of becoming disappointed that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations and fall flat. I can say with all honesty that this book not only lives up to the hype, it immensely surpasses it! Leigh Bardugo has created a masterful, epic story that felt like a mix of Ocean’s Eleven, Peaky Blinders, and Harry Potter all mixed into one; It’s got a dangerous heist set in a victorian era world with magical beings!

A Map of Bardugo’s Grishaverse, image courtesy of fandom’s wiki page

What It’s About:

The story first takes place in the fictional city of Ketterdam, a coastal trade post filled with greed, corruption, and mob violence. Organized crime is the lay of the land, and amongst the worst criminals the city has to offer, a young Kaz Brekker is given the opportunity for the biggest heist in recorded history to make him wealthier beyond his wildest dreams.

A map of Ketterdam, image courtesy of the Grishaverse wiki page

Someone has created a drug named Jurda Parem that enhances Grisha powers tremendously to the point of a deadly addiction (similar aesthetic to an addiction to meth), and the creator of it has been captured and taken prisoner in the impenetrable ice fortress in the northern land of Fjerda.

The impenetrable Ice Court in Fjerda, image courtesy of the Grishaverse fandom wiki page

No one has ever escaped from the Ice Court, so Kaz recruits several others to aid him in this seemingly impossible task:

Matthias Helvar: A Fjerdan Drüskelle (soldier) turned prisoner that burns with revenge on the woman that betrayed him.

Nina Zenik: A Heartrender Grisha who uses her magic to help herself survive the brutal streets of Ketterdam.

Jesper Fahey: One of Kaz’s men, a sharpshooter who can’t say no to any sort of gamble.

Wylan Van Eck: a runaway mechanic with a privelaged past.

Inej Ghafa: Another one of Kaz’s spies, a deadly assassin known simply as The Wraith.

A bunch of rejects, criminals, and thieves; they all must begrudgingly work together in order to rescue the prisoner, escape the Ice Court, and get their reward. Breaking in is one thing, but Kaz quickly learns that one of his biggest rivals is also after the same prize, and that their mission might be a guaranteed failure with all the secrets that are being kept amongst even his most trusted…

Before going into what I liked and disliked, I thought I’d give a short, brief summary of the Grisha. They are an integral part of the author’s world and the stories that she’s created, so below is a short lesson of who they are:

The Grisha:

The world has magical beings called “Grisha,” who have the abilities to practice magical powers. There are three classifications: Corporalki, Etheralki, and Materialki.

  1. Corporalki are known as The Order of the Living and the Dead, and have sub categories of Grisha that are Healers, Heartrenders, and Tailors. Healers are self explanatory, but Heartrenders are those that can damage internal organs like slowing the heart’s pulse or taking air from lungs. Tailors are those that can change appearances of themselves and/or others.
  2. Etherealki are known as The Order of Summoners, and have sub categories of Squallors, Inferni, and Tidemakers. Squallors can manipulate the wind, Inferni can manipulate fire, and Tidemakers can manipulate water. There are have been especially rare cases of Shadow Summoners and Sun summoners, those that can manipulate light and darkness.
  3. Materialki are known as The Order of Fabrikators, and have sub categories of Durasts, and Alkemi. Durasts can manipulate glass, steel, wood, plants, stone, or anything that is solid on a molecular level. Alkemi specialize in chemicals that aid in the production of powders, explosives and poisons.

What I Liked:

  1. The Plotting/ World Building! The author has truly created a masterpiece with this story; it’s obvious that the author meticulously planned it all out to keep it as tight as possible, not a single word or moment out of place. Ketterdam is an incredibly interesting place for the story to begin; I personally imagined the city looked like either Amsterdam in the Netherlands or Prague in the Czech Republic, while the Ice Court in Fjerda looks more like Siberia, Russia.
  2. It’s Able to be Read as Standalone! Leigh Bardugo has other works that takes place before the events in this story with her Shadow and Bone trilogy. While to me, the trilogy probably gives better background information on the Grisha specifically, you can start Six of Crows without having read them prior. There might be small tidbits of information or references that may go over some reader’s heads, but nothing significantly stood out that would ruin the book for anyone. The amount of information given about the magical beings of this world that is given is just enough for the reader to have a basic understanding of it all.
  3. The Morally Grey Characters & Their Development! This aspect is absolutely nailed to perfection as literally every main character grows, have unique personalities, purposes, and goals. Through the book, along with several flashback scenes, you learn more and more about them, and can enjoy how truly fleshed out they become. Inej is an assassin, a thief, but has been through hell and back and wants to ultimately do the right thing, and liberate slaves like herself. She has a hard heart, but she’s willing to open it up to those she truly cares about. Jesper is witty, sarcastic, but knows how blessed his life is from growing up on a farm. He recognizes his personal flaws and tries to fix them. Nina is a delight; she goes from a flirt to a badass force in less than 10 seconds. She is confident in her fuller figure, and is not ashamed of her love for waffles. Matthias, though perhaps the hardest to feel sympathy for, is a man constantly torn between what he’s always known and been trained to believe vs. the world that he sees and learns through his own eyes. Wylan is a shy, goody two shoes type who came from a sheltered background, and while he doesn’t get as much attention in this book, he has many different depths that readers learn in the book’s sequel, Crooked Kingdom. Kaz is a manipulative, twisted, morally black character; he’s the perfect anti-hero. He doesn’t want to rescue the scientist to be a hero or save the world, he just wants his money, and doesn’t care who he has to stomp his expensive shoes with in order to get what he wants.
  4. The Banter/Group Dynamics! Each of the characters has a special relationship amongst the others in their small crew, whether it be through owed debts, bitter enemies, employee-employer; they all form reluctant alliances amongst each other in order to obtain the prize that they are all promised.
  5. The Slow-Burn Multiple Romances! Yes, there is romance, but Bardugo does it in such a way that it never overtakes or detracts from the overall story; it’s never forced or randomly placed. It so subtle and below the radar that it’s almost unexpected until it drives you crazy and makes you want to toss the book across the room with the need to yell “Just kiss already!” Each romantic subplot is unique in itself as well, and are there for entirely different purposes, which is a relief as well, they don’t feel repetitive or too similar.
  6. The Diversity Of The Cast Of Characters! Six of Crows may have one of the most diverse casts of characters that any reader could obtain. Its not just diverse in terms of race, but also sexuality, badass females, and also in terms of disabilities. Kaz is physically disabled with a limp in his right leg and has Haphephobia, the fear of being touched or touching others. Nina is a proud fat girl who also happens to be considered the most attractive member of the group, and there’s even a dyslexic character, which is extremely rare in Fantasy, YA or Adult. It’s portrayed as a way for the character to not be embarrassed and that it doesn’t make them less of a person, so why not add another?…one character even has ADD.
  7. The Real World Undertones! The author deals with real world issues like racism, religion, sexism, LGBTQ rights, and plenty of others. She successfully manages to turn them into something amongst the characters in her work and has it represented in a different way, but the message remains the same.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Beginning Chapters…Honestly, I can’t say much that I dislike about this story, but one thing worth mentioning is that the first few chapters throw readers right into the world and takes off immediately. It’s pretty much like a sink-or-swim type of feeling, and makes it hard to gain footing for new readers, especially for those like me, who come in not having read the Grisha Trilogy beforehand.
  2. Too Many Flashbacks?…I’m someone who becomes impatient when it comes to the stories I dive into, and I do tend to get frustrated when something makes me have to slow down or gets in my way (i.e: real world adulting, work, housework, etc.) its also why I’m not a big fan of musicals…after two songs I’m like “get on with it already!” The flashbacks do provide vital information that gives us new depths to the characters and why they are the way they are, but for me, after awhile I just wanted to see what happened next in present time. This was just a personal annoyance I found, but they didn’t detract from the story in any way. In fact, they only made it more complex and interesting.

Conclusion:

Overall, Six of Crows is a masterpiece of Fantasy Fiction filled with a rich & complex world, a cast of the most diverse group of characters anyone will ever read, and a more original plot than a lot of other works. They aren’t a Justice League of heroes out to save the world, they’re all crooked criminals who want a reward by accomplishing the most impossible heist that anyone could ever imagine!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell