I legit nuzzled this book when I finished. I adore this series, I adore these characters, and Crooked Kingdom is a phenomenal second part and a great finale.
I had a bit of anxiety throughout much of this book. Kaz Brekker is my son, he's literally pulling me out of this incoming dystopian-fueled depression, and is currently the lock screen image on my phone. What I mean by that is that no harm may come to child or I'll have to fight somebody. Wishing for something like that is a fruitless endeavor, of course, for my adopted son is pretty into his game of risk, and his creator is a master at creating puzzles and then tearing them down. Bardugo will often set the gun on the mantle just so, so that if you're looking for it you'll know when something is about to go off, but you still will always be surprised. This book is complicated. If Six of Crows was a ride on a swift roller coaster, Crooked Kingdom is a full-tilt run through an entire amusement park. I'm not gonna lie, I got a little lost a few times, but I trust Bardugo, so I was more than happy to just go with it and see how things landed.
The character moments are beautiful – the big ones and the small ones. The way these idiots flirt with each other is un-freaking-real. One of the things that I mentioned in my Six of Crows review is that even though this is a young adult book and the characters are all teenagers, they don't act like it. This book however, takes a few poignant moments to remind us that they are in fact kids. It does this by putting them in contrast to actual adults, ones that genuinely care about them and look at them like people that need to be protected. I love my flashy, brilliant criminal masterminds, but I also love when Kaz and Jesper are just teenage boys (even when that means they're punching each other), or when Nina teases Matthias with stories of Ravka's version of 50 Shades of Gray, or when Kuwei shamelessly tries to steal Jesper's attention away from Wylan. The dialogue, the banter is infinitely clever. I could read about these kids snipping at each other all day long.
Can I tell you that Kaz and Inej are like my fantasy romance brought to life? The idea of a woman out sailing her ship, hunting slavers and then every couple of weeks or even months coming back home to her wicked but faithful man? Kaz waiting at the docks for her like the crow he is? Love it. I'm so about it. I want a whole series about Inej and her crew. Bardugo writes Kaz and Inej beautifully, she's careful and loving with the way she portrays their reservations, their failings and their desire for each other. Even when Kaz reaches out and fails because his trauma is just too great to overcome in that moment, I was achingly proud of him. I feel like there's something very important about a character like Kaz, even with all his moral ambiguity. As Bardugo has said, he's the cripple she wished she could be. Even with his limp, he keeps moving. Even with his paralyzing trigger, he keeps trying. If he can cultivate every nasty piece of himself in order to thrive in the Barrel, he can take that energy and shake this monkey off his back. Or keep it at bay when he needs to, at least. He can love a woman he doesn't deserve. He can be something more than just Dirtyhands.
Kaz is an anti-capitalist dreamboat, even though he may claim to be otherwise. Not to make everything about everything right now, but to me, that's kind of what this duology seems to be about. Kerch's religion is literally money, and Kaz is its Shadow, as Inej calls it. He dresses like a merch, he does business like a merch, but calls himself what he is – a thief. And as such he calls them what they are. Unlike Jan Van Eck and Pekka Rollins, Kaz has no interest in legacy (I mean, he's seventeen, so that might just a matter of time). He literally says it when he's asked what he'll do with his winnings. “Build something new. Burn it down.” He's smart enough to know that money means something, but also knows that the bigger reward is the game itself. He's Heath Ledger's Joker, just dressed a little nicer. The Magician and The Trickster all at once.
The more books I've read in my life the more I've seen good endings, even to trilogies. Great endings, however, are still rare. Crooked Kingdom is an extraordinarily on point ending for this two-part series, and even if Bardugo adds to the canon of these characters like she hopes to, this is a complete story. The two books build on each other, reflect each other, and the conclusions she gives each of these characters is so right, even when they're complicated and occasionally tragic. You might be surprised to know how upbeat this book actually is – its exceptionally funny, far more than Six of Crows. You could not design a more perfect escape.