“a black glass boy of deadly edges.”
So this is what all the hype was about.
I have to be honest right from the start: when I read the Grisha Trilogy, I was sort of wondering what all the fuss was about. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the three novels in the series well enough, but at the end of my reading experience and recently, several months after finishing the series, I found myself thinking that it wasn’t at all what it was hyped up to be. I liked Leigh Bardugo’s creative world building and interesting characters (shout out to The Darkling and Nikolai/Sturmhond in particular) a lot, but I just couldn’t fully understand why everyone on Goodreads was obsessed with Bardugo’s writing. I found myself not really getting it.
That is until I read Six of Crows which absolutely blew me away. Having now finished reading the second novel in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom, I can finally say that I truly understand Bardugo’s genius and I am absolutely eager to pick up anything and everything she has written and will write in the future. The Six of Crows duology is masterfully written and articulated: the pacing is absolute perfection, blending a suspenseful plot with intense moments of quiet, emotional reflection within each character; the world is vast and immense, and draws on elements of the Grisha trilogy to create a realistic setting and environment that is all encompassing and broad; and the characters…well, they’re impossible to describe and equally impossible to forget. I wrote last weekend about my appreciation for the female protagonists Nina and Inej who I believe are groundbreaking in their representation, and I was inspired even further by their friendship and teamwork in Crooked Kingdom – they truly reminded me of myself and my dear best friend, CV, boosting each other up and growing each other’s confidence at every turn. All of the characters are fascinating, though, from Wylan, the quiet and innocent scientist, to Jesper, the rambunctious and daring gambler (and, Wylan and Jesper’s relationship was remarkable and touching as well). There really is nothing that could’ve been made better or improved in the Six of Crows duology, and it is, to me, an utter masterpiece of literature. Despite the fact that it is a fantasy series branded as young adult lit., it is edgy, dark, heart wrenching and profoundly mature. This is the sort of young adult literature that needs to be written more often – we don’t need to pander to or belittle young adults, we need to provide them with stories that are as diverse and thought provoking and complex as they are. Leigh Bardugo does this artfully.
And, in truth, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom feel like very adult novels, particularly in some of the darker themes they investigate. One of these is the treatment of PTSD and anxiety, which is what touched me most profoundly when reading Crooked Kingdom. It all comes down to the astonishing characterization of Kaz Brekker, arguably the main character of the duology. Kaz is a character that I identified with very strongly (never mind the fact that every “Which Six of Crows character are you?” quiz I took yielded the result KAZ). Kaz suffers from anxiety in a way that is very complicated and easy to leave unrecognized. He is a strong and confident character, a born leader whose mind is so sharp that he always has a number of plans, and multiple backup plans, in the works. He is one of the most capable characters I have ever encountered. But, at the same time, Kaz is deeply flawed and troubled, having survived the traumatic experience of watching his brother die from illness when he was very young. There are so many layers to his particular story that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that Kaz has difficulty connecting emotionally to anyone else, as well as physically touching other people, because of what he has experienced. The fact that he wears black leather gloves almost constantly is a physical representation of his anxiety about getting too close to the people around him.
And how remarkable is it to have a character that gets things done, and does them well, but is also constantly at war within himself? This is absolutely, 100% groundbreaking in my opinion, and Bardugo treats Kaz’s anxiety and PTSD with the utmost care and sensitivity. But, she also displays his flaws, delves deep into them, and presents him to the reader warts and all. I felt in so many ways that Kaz was a mirror that reflected myself back to me – no, I don’t have trouble connecting to other people, but I do have my fair share of serious anxieties, and although I am often on top of them and use them to complete my tasks and responsibilities with even more perfection, they are frustrating and exhausting all the same. Suffering from anxiety is an everyday battle, and even if things are going well and everything is successful, that doesn’t mean that a person isn’t feeling weakened and vulnerable. Kaz is such a clear representation of that, this person who is seemingly always in control, but who is battling these harsh demons within himself. I easily sympathized and empathized with Kaz, and I would encourage every single person to read Crooked Kingdom (and of course, Six of Crows first) to get a sense of what a life with anxiety can be like.
What also struck me about Crooked Kingdom was the emphasis on fighting one’s demons, on doing everything possible to be healthy, to conquer one’s anxieties and weaknesses. This was a powerful message that I felt truly touched by – I loved the emphasis on doing the work to better yourself, on not just sitting around and saying that you are “damaged” and then doing nothing about it. Yes, there are so many people who go through grave and traumatic things, but I think what is most inspiring is when these people take those experiences and the pain they feel every single day and channel it into being a good person, or into bettering themselves and learning from their experiences. There is so much growth to be taken from trauma and pain, and although it is so much easier said than done, I appreciate that Bardugo forces her characters to be self-aware, to understand their flaws and complexities and work on achieving their own version of happiness, whatever that may be. The treatment of both anxiety and the healing process is flawlessly and movingly done.
“‘I would come for you…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.’” ~ Kaz to Inej
“‘Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined. If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it.’” ~ Inej to Jesper
Bardugo does so much with her characters in both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and she explores so many wonderful facets of their personalities, that it is quite impossible not to love and root for them. I was touched by the stories of every single one of the characters, and it was just an added bonus that the plots of the novels were so complex and exciting.
I would HIGHLY recommend the Six of Crows duology to anyone and everyone. Leigh Bardugo’s talent as a writer is so evident in these two novels, and it is a genius you won’t want to miss out on!
Six of Crows ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!
Crooked Kingdom ~ ❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ A new favourite!
Girl with a Green Heart