Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2016 by Henry Holt. It is the sequel to Six of Crows.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend to Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets—a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Rating: 4/5

I went into Crooked Kingdom knowing something big happens at the end, since people were screaming in Goodreads reviews about it, and I also had a fairly good idea about what that something bad would be. But before we talk about that, let me talk about my overall thoughts of the book.

I was pretty impressed with Bardugo in the Grisha trilogy, but she has clearly improved since then. Her writing is better, the plot is better, the characterization is hugely improved (except for one character, but I’ll get to that) and I thoroughly enjoyed this duology. Ruin and Rising let me down in the end, but Crooked Kingdom did not. My favorite moment of this book was the unexpected, small plot reveal made right at the end of the book, where I said “What?” out loud and then giggled in delight. I love authors who can so deftly weave a complex plot right under your nose and leave things hidden until the very end.

That being said, let’s move on to that Something Big that devastated most everyone who read the book—at least according to Goodreads. To be honest, I don’t know if the knowledge that something was going to happen ruined the moment for me, or if I would have felt as ambivalent about it even without knowing. And now I’m going to mention spoilers, so beware.


Frankly, Matthias’s death didn’t affect me all that much because Matthias was probably my least favorite character. He was probably the blandest, most boring character of the bunch—and I know that’s an unpopular opinion, but as I said about the first book, Nina/Matthias was never my cup of tea.

Also, looking back, his death was incredibly telegraphed—there’s only so much “we’re going to be awesome and I’m going to change the minds of my people and everything will be roses and daisies” talk that can happen before you start thinking “this person is totally not going to fulfill this, probably because he’s going to die.” And Matthias also made the most sense as to which character would die; Kaz and Inej are too important and Bardugo probably would never dare to kill off either Jesper or Wylan, so it made sense that either Nina or Matthias would die. And since Nina gets a new power to struggle over, that left Matthias.  So, I’m inclined to think his death would not have surprised me even if I hadn’t been spoiled.

Bland Matthias aside, I really did enjoy Crooked Kingdom. It wasn’t quite as heist-centric as Six of Crows, but there was still a great capers plot and enough compelling and surprising twists to satisfy and surprise until the very end. Bardugo has definitely improved since the Grisha trilogy, and I would have to say that this duology is the stronger of the two series.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Homosexuality, violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“This is good for us,” said Kaz. “The Shu and the Fjerdans don’t know where to start looking for Kuwei, and all those diplos making trouble at the Stadhall are going to create some nice noise to distract Van Eck.”

“What happened at Smeet’s office?” Nina asked. “Did you find out where Van Eck is keeping her?”

“I have a pretty good idea. We strike tomorrow at midnight.”

You can buy this here:


Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2015 by Henry Holt.

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone….A convict with a thirst for revenge; a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager; a runaway with a privileged past; a spy known as the Wraith; a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums; a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes…Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Rating: 4/5

Six of Crows is a little bit like Ocean’s Eleven crossed with Bardugo’s Grisha universe and some romance mixed in. It’s not necessary to have read Shadow and Bone or the other two books before reading this one, but they do help to fill in some of the gaps in the worldbuilding and some of the information about Ravka in this book is easier to understand and grasp the significance of if you’ve read the Grisha trilogy.

I loved the action and the complexity of Six of Crows, though it did get a bit tiresome at the end when Bardugo pulls the “here’s what a character did but oh, wait, you don’t know the full story and the ingenious thing they just pulled off until a little bit later.” I do like a limited narrator, so it was only the repetitiveness that grated at me a little, not the concept itself. The ending of the plot was a little obvious, but the reveals were good and even the parts that were obvious were gripping and suspenseful.

I do wish the romance would have been a little bit better, and I say that knowing that many people (according to reviews on Goodreads) loved it. I felt that it was a little predictable (six characters=an obvious three pairs of couples) and though the fan-favorite couple seems to be Nina and Matthias, I must admit that theirs was the most cliché, overused romance in the book, in my opinion. I’ve read maybe thirty different variants of the “I hate her but I love her” romance in various young adult novels. I much preferred the romance of Kaz and Inej, which is, if not less overused, at least less obvious about it.

I really enjoyed Six of Crows, flaws of predictability in romance and in some aspects of the plot aside, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else is in store for Kaz and his crew. Maybe an appearance by another character from the Grisha trilogy? One can only hope!

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, mentions of drugs and prostitution, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Twenty million kruge. What kind of job would this be? Kaz didn’t know anything about espionage or government squabbles, but why should stealing Bo Yul-Bayur from the Ice Court be any different form liberating valuables from a mercher’s safe? The most well-protected safe in the world, he reminded himself. He’d need a very specialized team, a desperate team that wouldn’t balk at the real possibility that they’d never come back from this job.

You can buy this here:

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Ruin and Rising, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2014 by Henry Holt. It is the sequel to Siege and Storm.

The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne. Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army. Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives. Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Aline the very future she’s fighting for.

Ruin and Rising probably would have left a better impression on me if I had been able to stop thinking about all the things I wanted the book to do that it didn’t. But there were too many times when I thought, “Aha! This is going to happen! Cool!” and then that didn’t happen, and what did happen just didn’t seem as satisfying.

Yet, the book is still a good finish to a trilogy with which I am overall impressed. I love the world and its scope in the book, even when the characters don’t actually go anywhere, and I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t like Mal in the first book and ended up liking him in the last because of his development. I still think he’s a bit too “obvious love interest,” but the trilogy works well even with the obvious.

I also loved the way Bardugo dealt with the Darkling. There were so many times I thought I knew exactly what would happen between Alina and the Darkling, and I was wrong nearly every time. I think the very strong “Beauty and the Beast” feel of the first three-quarters of Shadow and Bone sort of affected my perception, and I’m glad that Bardugo didn’t do what I thought she would do with the Darkling. I was pleased with his end. Bardugo manages not only to instill sympathy in the reader with the Darkling, but also keeps him a villain deserving of a villain’s end. Alina felt and did all the right things about the Darkling in this book. It was great to have a book that realizes, “Yes, this villain has a bit of a sad background, and yes, that makes him a bit more sympathetic, but he’s also made terrible decisions and in the end Alina did the right thing.”

I did think, though, that the ending could have been explained a little better. The truth behind the three amplifiers and what they do together is full of poetic justice and great irony, but in the end I was confused about what, exactly, had happened, and if it was permanent. I also didn’t understand why even with two amplifiers Alina couldn’t best the Darkling, and I thought what Baghra taught her should have been utilized much more than it was.

Also, despite the fact that Mal grew on me, I thought the ending was sappy to the point of cheesiness, and not as satisfying as Bardugo probably wanted it to be.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: One or two sensual scenes, implied (actually, more like skating just past the edge of out-right description) sex, violence, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

I felt it, miles above me—so tentative, barely a whisper. Panic gripped me. The distance was too great. I’d been foolish to hope.

Then it was as if something within me rose and stretched, like a creature that had lain idle for too long. Its muscles had gone soft from disuse, but it was still there, waiting. I called and the light answered with the strength of the antlers at my throat, the scales at my wrist. It came to me in a rush, triumphant and eager.

Overall Review:

Ruin and Rising is a strong finish to an overall strong trilogy, with a great world and great development over the three books. Yet even though in some cases, Bardugo not meeting my expectations was a good thing—such as the Darkling and the amplifiers—in some cases it just caused confusion and disappointment. And I’m still not fond of Mal and Alina, even though I’m much more approving of Mal as a character in this book than in the first.

You can buy this here: Ruin and Rising

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2013 by Henry Holt. It is the sequel to Shadow and Bone.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and father away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

I forgot to mention in my review of Shadow and Bone how much I love the Russian-style fantasy world of this series. I love it when authors draw on current or past culture to create their worlds (such as Rachel Hartman with Italy in Seraphina). The world is expanded a little more in Siege and Storm, although Alina goes back to Ravka and familiar settings quickly—more quickly than I was expecting, which threw me for a loop a bit.

I’m not sure I liked Siege and Storm as much as I liked Shadow and Bone, but this book is still a good, compelling fantasy. Bardugo didn’t do quite what I was expecting with the Darkling, but it still went in the direction I was expecting it to. I also thought Mal was much more likeable and interesting in this book, although I was hoping that he and Alina didn’t go through the “second book relationship problems” plot. Alas. I also didn’t like the introduction of Nikolai as a third potential love interest, since the Darkling isn’t even out of the picture even though he’s crazy evil. Love squares are even worse than love triangles.

I liked Alina’s struggle with power and how she wonders about her amplifiers and what that means for her. I do think that if that wasn’t in there, Alina would be entirely too perfect of a character, falling into Mary-Sue territory. But she does have flaws, which I hope come back again in the last book, and she does have weak moments alongside her awesome ones.

I also just now realized that the cover art for each book has one of the amplifier animals on it. That’s pretty cool.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: One or two sensual scenes, violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

I swallowed nervously and plunged ahead. “The stag’s power isn’t enough. Not to fight the Darkling. Not to destroy the Fold.”

“And your answer is a second amplifier?”

“For now.”

“For now?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Saints,” he swore. “You want all three. You want to hunt the firebird.”

Overall Review:

Siege and Storm was not quite as compelling as I found Shadow and Bone, but I still found it a good read, with a beautiful world and some improvement on character development. The quick pace of the beginning threw me off a little bit, and I wasn’t fond of yet another love interest for Alina to agonize over and her problems with Mal, but I am looking forward for the third book to see how Bardugo finishes.

You can buy this here: Siege and Storm

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2012 by Henry Holt. It is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy.

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal—and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked ad Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart—and her country—in two.

Shadow and Bone is, impressively, one of those fantasy books that I could barely put down. I say “impressively” because it’s actually not an incredible stand-out in the genre, relying a bit too much on overused fantasy and romance tropes. But the plot is interesting and compelling and Alina is a good protagonist.

I actually think the book is better without the romance, because while I’m positive the Darkling attraction is going to come back, as a whole the romance is generic, predictable and not overly important to the plot. It also doesn’t help that Mal is very poorly developed in this first book, and I didn’t care for or about him at all. I hesitate to toss around the words “interesting” or “boring,” but let’s face it—Mal is boring, and the Darkling is interesting. That’s why I’m positive the Darkling attraction/romance is going to come back (not just because the Darkling is an interesting character, but also because I have a feeling I know in what direction the second book will go). I do prefer the longer-standing, built-on-a-relationship romance of Alina and Mal than the purely attraction-based, lusty relationship of the Darkling and Alina, though.

Speaking of Alina and Mal, I was very confused as to their childhood and why they seemed so hesitant about telling people where they were from. I assume this is going to be a plot point later on? And why did they say they were from the same village when they’re not? Or are they? I’m hoping that this is just something to be further developed in later books and not just confusion on the part of the world or author.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: One or two sensual scenes, violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Overall Review:

It was hard for me to put Shadow and Bone down due to its interesting and compelling plot, world, and characters (most of them, anyway). The romance was the generic, predictable, love-triangle nonsense that’s a dime-a-dozen in YA, with an almost Beauty-and-the-Beast feel to it at first. I’m looking forward to the next one and I hope that a.) Mal and Alina’s confusing backstory is cleared up and b.) Mal gets development.

You can buy this here: Shadow and Bone