Crooked Kingdom: The long con in Ketterdam

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo YA fantasy book reviewsCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo YA fantasy book reviewsCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Note: This review contains spoilers for Six of Crows, the first book in this duology.

Crooked Kingdom (2016) picks up the story begun in Six of Crows and takes off like ― well, there are no freight trains in this world, so ― a runaway Grisha on jurda parem. In Six of Crows, teenage crime lord Kaz Brekker and his handpicked group of five pulled off a near-impossible heist, rescuing a young boy, Kuwei, from the impenetrable Ice Court of Fjerda and returning to Ketterdam with him and, more importantly, his knowledge of his father’s research into how to turn the ordinary jurda plant into jurda parem, a drug that instantly amps up Grishas’ magical powers to unbelievable heights, but leaves them as hopeless junkies when the effects of the drug wear off. Rather than receiving a payoff of thirty million kruge from their merchant partner, Jan Van Eck, for turning over Kuwei, they are double-crossed. Van Eck kidnaps Inej, one of Kaz’s crew and the nearest to his stony heart, promising to kill her if they don’t hand Kuwei over to him within seven days.

Kaz and the rest of his crew now face obstacles that are, once again, nearly insurmountable: first, attempting to rescue Inej from an enemy who is more powerful, connected and well-funded than they are, and then to try to get revenge and, if possible, the amount of the originally promised thirty million payout. At the same time, they want to neutralize the threat that jurda parem creates, and try to save Kuwei from those who would abuse him and his knowledge of the drug. The plot is exciting and frequently surprising, as wheels turn within wheels, misdirection and tricks abound, and the layered plans of Kaz and his opponents are gradually revealed.

Crooked Kingdom leaps back into the underworld of Ketterdam with barely a breath to spare for recapping the events of Six of Crows, so readers may want to refresh their memory of the events and main characters in that story. In Kaz’s crew of six, three potential romantic relationships have been forming: between Kaz (the ringleader) and Inej (the former gymnast known as the Wraith), Nina (the Grisha Heartrender) and Matthias (the disgraced soldier of Fjerda, who are sworn enemies of the Grisha), and Jesper (the sharpshooter addicted to gambling, with Grisha powers that he denies) and Wylan (Van Eck’s estranged son and an explosives expert). In addition to all of their external difficulties, there are internal ones: Kaz is unable to bear skin-to-skin touch because of his past trauma, Nina is addicted to jurda parem, Jesper is addicted to gambling, and Wylan is unable to read … not to mention his own father wants to kill him and the rest of Kaz’s crew. In between all of the exciting and twisted, layered plotting, Leigh Bardugo finds time to thoughtfully and realistically explore each of these relationships, as well as their individual strengths and weaknesses. It’s a monumental achievement.

Like Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom is an enthralling but gritty fantasy, pushing the boundaries of YA fiction with its violence, death, torture, discussion of slavery and prostitution, and addictions. The effects of past abuse and trauma are widespread among the main characters, often explained in flashbacks that shed light on their personalities, struggles and deepest desires.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoThe often-heavy atmosphere is lightened somewhat by the witty banter of Kaz’s crew:

“Do you know what Van Eck’s problem is?”


“No honor?” said Matthias.


“Rotten parenting skills?” said Nina.


“Receding hairline?” offered Jesper.


“No,” said Kaz. “Too much to lose. And he gave us a map to what to steal first.”

For those mature enough to handle the darker subject matter, this duology is gripping reading, with impressive world-building, a gradually broadening plot that pulls in players from other countries (including some old familiar friends from the GRISHA trilogy!), and intricately planned schemes of the grand heist and con game variety. Very highly recommended.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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  1. I’m torn on whether I want to read this duology because I love Bardugo’s short fiction (“The Witch of Duva,” etc.) but I found her Grisha series to be a little too boilerplate YA for my taste. However, I trust your opinion. Any thoughts?

    • This is very different in tone and style from the Grisha trilogy: it’s darker, more complex, and more adult (notwithstanding the teenage characters). There’s a little romance but the focus is really on the plotting and action of heists and cons. I really think these two books would appeal to you, Jana!

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