I would've liked this duology a lot less had I not already gotten firm sense of the world & magic from Bardugo's previous series. I stand by my statement that reading the Grisha trilogy beforehand is a good idea.
I enjoyed this one slightly less than Six of Crows.
One of the most important elements of Six of Crows was the storytelling, the slow discovery of each character's perspective through present & past predicaments. The magic of that technique has been lost in Crooked Kingdom.
It's partially because by this point we know the characters more thoroughly, but it also has to do with the layout of each chapter.
Where before each person's title chapters held my attention, I found myself floating along in a sea of apathy for nearly everyone's stories in this installment.
EXCEPT INEJ OF COURSE.
It's crazy to me how beautifully Inej's character is developed here. She is dangerous & talented with a degree of depth none of the other characters possess.
I believe her story. I feel her dedication. I support her sense of justice.
She is a female Robin Hood, and it works better than any other aspect of this novel.
Kaz & Jesper experience some notable developments, but neither of them struck me in the heart the way Inej did.
The other three essential members of the Dregs are pushed so far to the wayside they may as well have been absent from this book. There is an argument to be made for Wylan's role, he has a couple decent moments, but Nina's & Matthias' characters are incredibly flat by comparison to the others.
Bardugo's writing style is one of my favorite things about her as an author. She has a lovely rhythm in how she describes her setting. The streets of Ketterdam feel believable & dangerous. The magic the Grisha wield feels realistically powerful.
My one complaint deals with how ridiculously deferential every single character in this series is to Mr. Kaz Brekker.
I get it. He's a treacherous crime lord. He's talented, he's intelligent, he's a prodigy. They respect his skill. I get it.
I want to make it clear that I LIKE KAZ BREKKER.
But I am not a fan of his brilliance being shoved down my throat at every turn.
I noted so many times where I rolled my eyes because of the way certain scenarios are described.
I recall one scene where Wylan noticed it was difficult to keep up with Kaz even though he didn't have his cane. Am I really supposed to believe that Wylan, having full use of his legs, is struggling to keep up with Kaz? Another where Matthias commented that if Kaz couldn't discover the secrets of Ketterdam the no one could. Really? No one at all, Matthias??
I realize that Kaz's crew is supposed to be in awe of his ability, but comments like these arose so often that I began to gag. The more it came up the less convinced I was.
I am partial to the "show, don't tell" technique of characterization, and Kaz has plenty of moments where his actions alone would've stood as sufficient testament to his reputation.
I don't need everyone on their metaphorical knees the moment the boy walks into the room.
It was a relief to get to the sections of the book from Kaz's own perspective, because those portrayals of his character are a lot more balanced & realistic. He's a great character, I just feel like Bardugo was scared I might forget that if she went too long without reminding me.
As for the plot, I didn't hate it but it didn't exceed my expectations. There were some enjoyable twists & turns, definitely a logical progression of events.
It held my attention for the most part, but considering that the situation involved high councils & the major political decisions of handful of different nations & the existence of a substance with the potential to destroy humanity... it wrapped up a little too nicely & neatly.
I see why so many people love this series, it's much better than the Grisha trilogy as a whole. This takes the promising parts of Bardugo's first series & capitalizes on them. I can see her growth as a writer & a storyteller.
However, I struggle to give it a higher rating because I don't see myself thinking about these books much into the future or craving a reread. A good series that I'm glad I read. I'm interested to read Bardugo's future works because I think she will only continue to get better!