The Heart Is An Arrow…
…When you stomp around on it, it breaks. My expectations for the duology were equally high and low. I had my fair share of problems with the Grisha Trilogy and I’ve heard so often that Six of Crows is a lot better. I believed that but I also knew that my struggles with the previous books could have been something ingrained in Bardugo’s writing. A lot of her narrative and stylistic problems underlined everything that kept the Grisha books from reaching their full potential. But now, weeks after stepping foot into this magnificent world, I’m beyond speechless. Leigh Bardugo presented herself as a diamond in the rough with her Grisha books. With Six of Crows she slowly developed herself into a gem. Crooked Kingdom? That’s a brilliant. How I know that? Because my heart hurts from this story. And only the good ones stay with you in that way.
Turning Weaknesses Into Strengths
Let’s get the skeleton of this book out of the way before we get to its heart. The Grisha Trilogy was something I really wanted to edit. I wanted to sit down and tug a few strings so the story could unfold in a different way that would have made it feel more real in my opinion. The pace was off at times. That was the worst problem. What has always drawn me towards the language and the world of the books were the handling with metaphors, but even there I found a few of them clumsy at times. In Crooked Kingdom they’re Bardugo’s sharpest weapon aside from Kaz’s tongue and Inej’s blades. How a writer can grow into her own skill like that is something that amazes me and makes me really happy. What felt rushed in the Grisha books kept my heart racing in Crooked Kingdom. The metaphors were crystal clear and on point each and every time. Repetition is something I work with myself as a writer and it makes me smile whenever someone else does it in a good way. Bardugo is a master of it, a kindred spirit in the way she strings words together. I’m not saying that I’m as good as her or that it’s the only right way, not by far, but it makes it easy for me to fall into Crooked Kingdom. It practically lured me in and now, a day after finishing it, I already feel this longing that I know will only grow until I find another book that catches my heart like that.
Against All Odds
The books greatest strength was not the beautiful writing, though. If Leigh Bardugo’s language builds a house, then her characters are what makes it feel like a home. I’ve been thinking a lot yesterday and today how I could write a bit about my favorite, but the truth is – I don’t have one. The main characters are too different and at the same time too much of a unity to pick one that stands out. I felt elevated in all of their victories and I had to swallow down tears more than just once when it came to their losses. Crooked Kingdom even more than Six of Crows is a story that must have taken a lot of thought. Putting together those plans and executing them is something I could have never handled. But it wouldn’t have kept me on my toes the way it did, had I not been rooting for my crows. All of them. I wanted them to win so badly. And that’s the true magic of this book. It won’t allow you to catch a breath. It won’t even let you predict what is going to happen next. It just makes you care so deeply for this bunch of misfits that you can’t help but read on.
I’m trying to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but I have to mention this one scene that hopefully won’t give away too much. Kaz is helping Inej with her bandages. This whole scene is the perfect example for me what made this book feel so incredibly alive. There is a density it this scene, a tension if I might say so, built up between Bardugo’s language, the quiet the crows are allowed after and before every storm, the story of these characters and more importantly their development. It’s not that they grow just individually even though they do that as well. They grow in dynamic to each other. This one scene between Kaz and Inej has been one of the most perfect scenes I’ve ever read. Everything about it is amazing and that’s just one example of at least half a dozen moments in this book that I reread at the spot, two times, three times, soaking up the story till it was a part of me.
The reason Crooked Kingdom has made it to my favorites this year is because I truly think that it’s just an exceptionally well written book. And more importantly I think that different people might like it for different reasons. You want good fantasy? Read this book. You want relationships – romance and friendship alike – that feel real and actually tell you more about the characters individually than just about how they feel for each other? Read this book. You want a story that’s about wits and beating the odds that really keeps you on your toes and comes up with twists you won’t ever be able to see coming? Read this book. You want a story about people? People who feel real? Who suffer and get knocked down and fight themselves out with broken hearts but their heads held high? Then please read this book. Crooked Kingdom isn’t a careful story and I think you have to swallow it in all its raw brutality to really appreciate it. But when you do, it’s incredibly rewarding. More than anything else it’s a story that hammers this one message into your heart – Never give up. Over and over again. Never give up. Word that have an echo. Never give up.