Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Before I start my review, can we just take a minute to admire this beautiful piece of art featuring my favorites:kazinejkazSource

“I will have you without armour, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.”

This review contains *spoilers*.

The wait for this grandiose sequel has been all-consuming, I’ve been thinking about the Dregs for months and months now, so getting back into their lives has been one of the most rewarding experiences.

The book opens on Wylan still wearing Kuwei Yul-Bo’s features since Nina didn’t trust herself with her powers now. It had been just under a week since the Dregs reached Ketterdam, almost a month since they’d left Djerholm. And they’re all fighting to get Inej back before Van Eck could have his way with her.
They were almost out of time. But none of them knew the real game Kaz “Dirtyhands” Brekker – the smooth, smart, criminal mastermind – was running.
And so, piece by piece, the plan to rescue Inej had come together.
Things were about to get dangerous.

“Why do you guys say that, anyway? No mourners, no funerals? Why not just say good luck or be safe?”
“We like to keep our expectations low.”

Literally one of my most pressing questions for the sequel was answered so quickly!!

But the days until Van Eck’s deadline were dwindling, and to get Inej back, they would need surprise on their side. Only one shot at getting the Wraith out of this situation.tumblr_ob22e5hs2e1u1dvkmo1_1280tumblr_ob22e5hs2e1u1dvkmo2_1280But before all that can happen, we get to read from the pov of my favorite warrior: Inej Ghafa, legend of the Barrel. And let me tell you, she is one of the most strong and determined and courageous characters I’ve known, so watching her doubt herself and her Saints damn near broke me. What she had to go through in her first chapter left me both shaking and trembling. Ghafa has my soul, heart and my enter being wrapped around her pinky.

“When fear arrives, something is about to happen.

Meanwhile, the Dregs have gathered enough intel to get their girl the hell out of Van Eck’s hole. I felt truly terrified for Inej because that brute managed to get into her head, but she was done being frightened of this man. And so was I—thanks to both her and the man of the hour, my favorite bastard of the Barrel: Kaz Brekker with that demonic cane.

You know, I forgot for a second there just how dark he can be when it comes down to business. But he’s called Dirtyhands for a reason, and we’re reminded just exactly what he had done to earn his reputation.

“Sometimes, the only way to get justice is to take it for yourself.

I’m still furious at myself for believing that that smug merch son of a bitch could outthink Kaz Brekker. And with the help of his loyal Dregs, they manage to get Inej of out harm’s way… but not without trouble coming their way. The kind of trouble even Jan Van Eck hadn’t foreseen: Shu with wings (!!) looking to hunt and capture Grisha.

But the deal is the deal and Van Eck has to pay up—Dirtyhands is not someone to piss off. They’d set out to get Inej back from Van Eck and they had. But they’re not done with the merch. And the plan the Dregs have set is so intricate that it will be the end of the Van Eck empire, without a shadow of a doubt.

Okay so, here’s the official plan to both earning their thirty million kruge and obliterating the devil himself: They’re going after Van Eck’s sugar crop, since he controls the silos where the supply is produced:

  • Thanks to Wylan’s weevil they can destroy the sugar in Van Eck’s silos without being exposed.
  • “My father can weather a loss. The other merchants, the ones who own the sugar in his silos, will be hit worse.”
  • And once the other merchants learn that Van Eck has been buying up sugar that isn’t stored in his silos (thanks to Kaz purchasing shares on behalf of Van Eck), his reputation will be annihilated.
    “Van Eck’s reputation will take a hit when the sugar is lost. But when the people who paid him to keep it safe find out he profited from their loss, they’ll look more closely at those silos.”
    “And find the remnants of the weevil,” finished Wylan.
    “Destruction of property, tampering with the markets,” Inej murmured. “It will be the end of him.”
  • They’ll get the weevil into the silos by letting tiny and ferocious Inej do what she’s best at: climbing up twenty stories high and walking a high wire from one silo to the next…no biggie.
  • And while doing all of the above, they’re also going to get the rest of the Grisha out of the city, at Nina’s request.A ship to Ravka with twenty passengers (including Kuwei) is conspicuous, so they’re going to steal Van Eck’s own transport to remain obscure. They couldn’t just be smarter than their opponent, they had to be relentless.
  • I just… why is everything so damn complicated with the Dregs. They’re nothing if not ambitious.

tumblr_ocqncet8up1uupqxmo1_500“You couldn’t go to war with an upstanding merch like Van Eck, not if you were a thug with a reputation dirtier than a stable hand’s boot sole. To win, Kaz would have to level the field. He would show the world what he already knew: Despite his soft hands and fine suits, Van Eck was a criminal, just as bad as any Barrel thug—worse, because his word was worth nothing.”

It’s a known fact that Kaz Brekker is a smooth, smart, criminal mastermind, but he also hurts for his big, criminally inclined family. And watching him realize just that was one of my most cherished scenes.

“He was going to break my legs ,” she said, her chin held high, the barest quaver in her voice. “Would you have come for me then, Kaz? When I couldn’t scale a wall or walk a tightrope? When I wasn’t the Wraith anymore?”
Dirtyhands would not. The boy who could get them through this, get their money, keep them alive, would do her the courtesy of putting her out of her misery, then cut his losses and move on.
“I would come for you,” he said, and when he saw the wary look she shot him, he said it again. “I would come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together—knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

I cant stop thinking about this without getting goosebumps. Damn you, Kaz.

You know, speaking of which, Wylan finding out that his mother was still alive and in an insane asylum because of rotten Van Eck, made me want to string his father up in a barren field and let the vultures have at him, to quote Jesper.

But seriously that whole situation made my heart race. I couldn’t believe to what levels of evil Van Eck would sink. The only silver lining was the whole plan Kaz had in store for the devil. And hopefully seeing Wylan reunite with Marya Hendriks.I’m always weak for stories reuniting mother and son. Always.

Also, Jesper trying to cheer Wylan up made me shed a tear or two…

“Hey,” Jesper said, giving him a shake. “Hey. Your father could have made a lot of choices when he found out you couldn’t read. Hell, he could have said you were blind or that you had trouble with your vision. Or better yet, he could have just been happy about the fact that he had a genius for a son.”
“I’m not a genius.”
“You’re stupid about a lot of things, Wylan, but you are not stupid. And if I ever hear you call yourself a moron again, I’m going to tell Matthias you tried to kiss Nina. With tongue.”
Wylan wiped his nose on his sleeve. “He’ll never believe it.”
“Then I’ll tell Nina you tried to kiss Matthias. With tongue.” 

They seriously deserve the world and so much more. They all did.tumblr_inline_ob5nyhxymx1sn4c4i_500tumblr_inline_ob5nxi5riv1sn4c4i_500This was them at their best.

And then halfway through the book, the plan suddenly changes because Ketterdam has turned on Kaz. “But if you couldn’t open a door, you just had to make a new one.” And that’s what Dirtyhands excels at.

“I know how to do it,” Kaz said slowly. “How to get Kuwei out, get the Grisha out, get our money, beat Van Eck, and give that son of a bitch Pekka Rollins everything he has coming to him.”
Nina raised a brow. “Is that all?”
“How?” asked Inej.
“This whole time, we’ve been playing Van Eck’s game. We’ve been hiding. We’re done with that. We’re going to stage a little auction. Right out in the open.” He turned to face them, and his eyes gleamed flat and black as a shark’s. “And since Kuwei is so eager to sacrifice himself, he’s going to be the prize.”

My heart leapt like a horse clearing a jump. Kuwei is going to auction himself with the hopes that the Ravkans will end up buying him. It was the best chance they had of getting Kuwei to Ravka and saving Grisha lives. To quote Brekker, it was a mad, spiky monster of a plan, and that was what it had to be for them to succeed.

Seriously though, how does Bardugo keep up with herself? There were so many twists and turns that left my mind spinning even after having closed my eyes. The whole storyline is just so lancing—we know where the end-game is supposed to be, but to get there the Dregs would have to go through hell and back. And damn, that they did.tumblr_m6nkzpbh1x1ryjef3o1_250But before hell comes their way, Kaz and Inej share an intimate moment that left me undone. He had gone to great lengths to prove he was capable of anything.

“The sickness was there, the need to run, the need for something else too. Kaz thought he knew the language of pain intimately, but this ache was new. It hurt to stand here like this, so close to the circle of her arms. It isn’t easy for me either. After all she’d endured, he was the weak one. But she would never know what it was like for him to see Nina pull her close, watch Jesper loop his arm through hers, what it was to stand in doorways and against walls and know he could never draw nearer.”

I’ll be 100% honest, this choked me up a little bit.

“Before he even knew what he intended, he lowered his head. She drew in a sharp breath. His lips hovered just above the warm juncture between her shoulder and the column of her neck. He waited. Tell me to stop. Push me away.
She exhaled. “Go on,” she repeated. Finish the story.”

My heart should not be making that sound.

“The barest movement and his lips brushed her skin—warm, smooth, beaded with moisture. Desire coursed through him, a thousand images he’d hoarded, barely let himself imagine—the fall of her dark hair freed from its braid, his hand fitted to the lithe curve of her waist, her lips parted, whispering his name.
All of it there and then gone. ”

This is heaven, what I truly want. I have no words to thank you for this.tumblr_nokcqwbter1tkl5qyo4_250Seriously, Leigh can write evocative, raw and hauntingly powerful scenes like nobody’s business.

“Two of the deadliest people the Barrel had to offer and they could barely touch each other without both of them keeling over. But they’d tried. He’d tried. Maybe they could try again.”

They truly deserve their happy ending.

But in the end, it all came down to this: “Brekker, his Wraith queen, his rotten little court of thugs.” Because no matter what would happen, the Dregs had a way of rewriting their own rules.

I mean, that ending… that ending was every bit as epic as I had anticipated. It either would’ve gone brilliantly or in total disaster, but that’s generally the way this crew likes to work.

Also, one last minor thing: I was on the edge the whole time to see who would survive, even though the table of contents kind of gave away who lives, who dies, who tells their story… But I cannot, for the life in me, believe Matthias Helvar got killed off by a young drüskelle. This is not what I want. This is not what I planned.

“After all their mad escapes and close calls, he’d started to believe the six of them were somehow charmed, that his guns, Kaz’s brains, Nina’s wit, Inej’s talent, Wylan’s ingenuity, and Matthias’ strength had made them somehow untouchable. They might suffer. They might take their knocks, but Wylan was right, in the end they were all supposed to stay standing.
“No mourners,” said Jesper, surprised by the ache of tears in his throat.
“No funerals,” they all replied softly.”

My eyes burned, tears streaming down my cheeks. I was whispering “come back to me,” right there with Nina.

I just… I was rooting for everyone to have their happy ending. Everyone. So this death came as such a shocking reveal. I felt sorrow dragging at my heart for hours after that. And I’m still not over it.  tumblr_ml4ndbe6x11qlhhx4o1_540tumblr_ml4ndbe6x11qlhhx4o2_540This Saintsforsaken book has taken away a piece of my heart with that ending. I’ve got this ache in my chest that won’t go away. I want to be free. But I know I won’t be forgetting the Dregs anytime soon.

5/5 stars

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