If you don’t know what a reading slump is, prepare yourself to find out.

Book cover of a black crow against a tan background with white letters of the book title "Crooked Kingdom".

Book cover for Leigh Bardugo’s “Crooked Kingdom.”

A shock wave was sent through Leigh Bardugo fans after reading “Crooked Kingdom”, the second fantasy novel in the “Six of Crows” duology series. The novel made fans close to never picking up another book again because it was just that good. After such a short time of the author’s fans becoming addicted to her series, Bardugo finished it off with a bang as she guides us through a novel of pure adventure, criminal activity, heart-wrenching plot twists, and deep character attachments that are otherworldly.

The novel takes place within the Grishaverse, a fantasy world made of multiple different countries. “Crooked Kingdom” takes place in Kerch, one of many lands in the Grishaverse. However, despite the vastness of the world, the detailed and delicate world-building in Bardugo’s novels is easy to understand. There is even a map at the beginning of the novel to get an idea of where the story is taking place. 

This series of the Grishaverse features six characters — Kaz Brekker, also known as the Bastard of the Barrel, and his team of misfits, Inej Ghafa, Jesper Fahey, Nina Zenik, Matthias Helvar, and Wylan Van Eck — who come together for the heist of their lives in the first book “Six of Crows”. The heist takes a turn for the worse when one of their own is in trouble, and the crew have to come up with an all-impossible plan to get their money back and save their friend.

Each character has their own twisted backstory, along with their own set of skills which Kaz needs to succeed in the heist. When they return from the heist, the man in charge of paying them back-stabs them. He takes Inej hostage until Kaz returns with the prize they sought in the heist. 

Throughout “Crooked Kingdom”, the development of the characters and their relationships with each other is beautifully done. Watching this team start with a huge lack of trust and then flourish into an “I would die for you” state of mind is something of a miracle. 

One of the best things about Bardugo’s writing is that the book has visibility of LGBTQ+ characters. The little quirks and the development of the relationship between two of the boys, Jesper Fahey and Wylan Van Eck, is one of the reasons why I recommend this book so highly.

Obviously, romance is not the main point of the novel’s plot. Throughout the book, Jesper and Wylan go through so much struggle individually in their lives, but the fear of being gay is not one of them. 

In this universe, being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is not something that is protested or frowned upon, unlike the prejudice experienced against that community in our world. Bardugo created a universe where their love is given no second thought by anyone. The power in Bardugo’s writing is phenomenal, because she invites us into a safe world we want to live in. 

As you read about these relationships and how they unfold, like the one between Wylan and Jesper, you will grow an attachment to the characters. The plot is fascinating and well-developed, but it is the character development that makes you truly fall in love with the book—even if the characters are still criminals at heart.

Kaz and his crew finally enact their elaborate plan to retrieve the money they were owed. The gang also tries to clear their names, since they were labelled as criminals amongst the chaos. This is when every reader is sitting on the edge of their seat as all of the characters battle through the hardest things they’ve ever faced in the series so far. 

In case you haven’t finished the book, a huge spoiler lies ahead.

At the end of the novel, when they have finally succeeded, the unexpected death of a fan-favorite character, Matthias Helvar, shocked every reader to the core. Bardugo’s fans have raved about Matthias’ death since the book was released in 2016. 

Matthias’ death is arguably a necessary evil. It brought the crew together one more time after the success of the plan. The characters pretended to hate one another and often bickered throughout the book, but they all mourned the death of someone they considered a beloved friend. 

The revival of this book’s hype has been discussed often on social media due to Bardugo’s newest book of the “King of Scars” duology in the Grishaverse being released recently. 

“King of Scars” was released on January 29, 2019 and the series’ second book “Rule of Wolves” was released this year on March 30. There are different characters from the main characters of her other books, but the duology is set in the same world. 

The well-rounded representation and articulate world-building through six different character point of views made for an exceptional novel—arguably one of Bardugo’s best. 

Jaedyn Young can be reached at jaedynyoung@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.