After pulling off their raid on the (thought to be) impenetrable Ice Court, Kaz Brekker and his gang are determined to get the money they are owed by corrupt merchant Jan Van Eck through any means necessary. With almost the entire city of Ketterdam against them, they will have to use all their wits and wiles to come out of this one on top. But are their dreams of freedom and great riches really achievable?
Firstly, Crooked Kingdom succeeds in the most important aspect – not just keeping Brekker’s crew as likeable and engrossing as in the first book but deepening them even further. Every central character – from runaway grisha Nina to rogue solider Matthais to wallcrawling Inej – has their personalities and backstories probed more than in the first book. In particular, sharpshooting Jesper and newcomer Wylan were somewhat sidelined in Six of Crows but get a lot more to do here and become just as interesting as their cohorts. Nonetheless it is Kaz – a tragic monster of a teenage boy - who still holds the story together. It might be something of a cliché, but these six racially and sexually diverse rascals, with platonic and romantic attachments flying everywhere, really do feel like old friends by the time you are done reading.
On the narrative side of things, you could argue that Crooked Kingdom’s plot – a complicated long con to fool Van Eck out of his money and reputation – doesn’t quite have the snappy hook of Six of Crows. Yet Bardugo still has a strong command of story, as she juggles multiple plot theads over the circa 500 pages that are all satisfyingly weaved together come the end. Her dialogue is spot-on, full of laugh-out-loud zingers, and her prose frequently produces a beautiful turn of phrase. The only – admittedly fairly minor - blemish is the sudden introduction of a new character late in the day that seems at odds with the writer’s deft plotting elsewhere.
On the whole, though, Crooked Kingdom is a thrilling, funny and at times downright emotional read and a must-buy for fans of strong characters and vivid storytelling. In other words, just about everyone really.
CROOKED KINGDOM / AUTHOR: LEIGH BARDUGO / PUBLISHER: ORION CHILDREN'S BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW