Monday, December 19, 2016

Ships, Fights, and Feels, Oh My!

Title: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
Release Date: September 27th, 2016!

From Goodreads...
When you can’t beat the odds, change the game.
Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

My Review!
*Spoilers, so beware!

This book. THIS BOOOOOOK. This series. These characters. Precious cinnamon rolls with darkish hearts who don’t just become a team, but a family. I seriously don’t know how I’m going to do this book justice. This book that made me feel all the things, that made me cry in laughter and in sadness. Ships where every little, small moment between them needed to be flipped the fuck out over. EVERYTHING. Just, everything about this was brilliant.

And I have so much love for Kaz Brekker, guys, it’s kinda a problem. Because, you know, he’s not really a good guy. I hesitate to call him a villain, but hell if he doesn’t do villainous things. (We could talk about that eyeball scene in SoC, if you want). But I love him. Because he feels REAL. He’s not a caricature antihero. He’s so much more than a thief, Dirtyhands, bastard of the Barrel. He’s a guy who lost his brother and who still mourns him so fiercely, he won’t give up on his revenge, no matter what’s at stake. He’s a guy who finds it hard to talk to a girl he likes, a girl he feels things for that he doesn’t know how to show. He’s a guy struggling with PTSD, with panic attacks and who can’t stand skin-on-skin contact. I so, so appreciated this. Not that he HAS PTSD, but that Leigh Bardugo doesn’t back down from showing it. Have you ever read a fantasy that delved into mental health like this? I feel like fantasy doesn’t do that very often, at least of what I’ve read. Sure, often grief and pain has a focus. But not an actual mental illness. Kaz is TRYING. He is trying to work through his terror, his panic when the gloves come off and he has to touch someone. That was so important for me to see here. It was important for me to see this character struggle but tackle it head-on with courage. It made him so much more real for me. And I have a lot of feelings for Kaz. This brave, intelligent guy with a dark heart, in love with a girl who makes him feel seen and wanted and worth the wait.

Inej Ghafa, queen of my heart. Thief of the Barrel. A shadow in the night, a deadly knife in the back. But she, like Kaz, is so much more than what she appears for me. And just as it was important for Kaz’s PTSD to be given proper attention, so was Inej’s past. As a slave in Tante Heleen’s brothel, as a girl who had had a loving family and wonderful parents sold for the price of her body, Inej has been through a hell of a lot in her short life. But it doesn’t slow her down, and I just loved watching Inej prove to herself that she’s worth more than that, that she deserves a free life, a life that she chooses. She’s been working through the painful past bit by bit, even as she’s kidnapped and threatened, even as she’s running around the Barrel exploiting people’s secrets and being Kaz’s spider. She still struggles with the hold that it has over her, but she’s determined to put it behind her. And with Kaz, she feels cared for, wanted. Even when he can’t express his feelings, and even when he pushes her away, he’s done more for her than anyone has ever done. Kaz isn’t always nice to her, to anyone. But she loves him. However, Inej still wants to chase after her dreams, and she won’t be tied down by someone else again. I loved Inej’s journey, and I loved Inej. Quick on her feet, smart as fuck, and with a big heart, Inej has become one of my favorite characters of ALL-TIME, and I will fight anyone who messes with her. Nah, who am I kidding? She can take care of herself. After all, she’s the Wraith.

Nina Zenik, another queen of my heart. Another all-time favorite character of mine (tbh, really all of them are and I can’t pick a true favorite, I just can’t). A lost Heartrender without a home, a girl who loves waffles and food in general and wearing red. Nina deserves all the best, which kills me when I think of what happened in this book, but we’ll get there in a moment. I feel like she’s the heart of the group. As compassionate as she is talented, with a heart as big as the ocean. She cares so much for people, even those who don’t deserve it. She’s a forgiving person, while the rest of the group is not really (except for Matthias, and I guess Wylan too). But she brings them together, rallies them in times that they really need it. And she will always lend a hand if she can. However, in Crooked Kingdom, Nina’s power has been warped. Reshaped and shadowed. Something that she’s still learning about even as they fight for their lives and try to outwit all the people who want them to fail. It’s something that makes Nina feel as if she’s no longer Grisha. It’s more than a name for her, more than her homeland. It’s what makes her feel alive; it makes her feel whole. It’s hard for Nina to deal with that while trying to shake off the parem that her body still craves. But she finds in herself new strength, strength in the new power, strength in her body, and strength in love. Matthias is there by her side, a thorn at times, but mostly someone who will hold her up when she’s falling and always ply her with waffles when she’s feeling better and hungry.

Matthias Helver, the druskelle who they freed out of prison. The convict who’d been hell-bent on killing Nina. The traitor who turned his back on his kingdom when he helped them free Kuwei from the Ice Court prison. The big grumpy teddy bear who hates everyone and always thinks they have bad ideas. But he goes along with them, in part because they need the help, and in part because Nina won’t leave them. She can’t, really. Neither could Matthias, as much as he wished he could. He’s far too deep to get out now, especially when the bullets start pointing his way too. He’s the brute strength of the group; the one who is a trained soldier well adept at strategy and blasting his way out of tight spots (I got a little punny here and I’m pretty proud of myself, ngl). He’s got a strong sense of duty, something that had turned him into a bit of a monster. But when he learned of what his country had been doing to the Grisha, and what they were trying to accomplish, he realizes just how badly duty can get distorted and that it wasn’t okay. I think much of that was because of his feelings for Nina, but still, he’d become an ally to Kaz and and his crew. And one that, I personally feel, deserved better. When Leigh announced that not all of them would make it out alive, I figured it would be Matthias, the more expendable one of the group. (Please don’t throw things at me! I loved him dearly, but I felt like he was the one most people didn’t warm up to as easily). But the way it happened left me feeling cold and empty, and I just wish it’d gone differently.

Jesper Fahey is the sharpshooter with a tongue as as wicked as his revolvers. Always the one to put a smile on his face, Jesper tries hard to keep the spirits high. But when his spirit dips low, he’s the one who needs cheering up. After learning that it was he who almost got Inej killed that fateful night in Six of Crows, Jesper has felt out of sorts and outcasted by Kaz. And when his father shows up looking for him, in the middle of a deadly fight in the Barrel, a fight where everyone is against them but the few who are still loyal, Jesper is flailing about searching for a life raft. He’s scared, in trouble with his father, and Kaz won’t look at him. Inej forgives, of course she does. She knows that it wasn’t on purpose. It is what it is. Jesper needed a good swift slap on the head, though. He needed to realize that he couldn’t keep lying to his father, that he had to own up to his mistakes and start making amends. Jesper is such a precious little cinnamon roll and I felt for him, felt his regret and anger at himself for all he’s done and all the people he’s let down. But he also needed to cut himself some slack, because he kept trying, determined to do better and be a better person. And he needed to accept the power within himself, that frightening thing that he’s always been told to keep a secret. But he’s needed, and Jesper knows it’s high time he stops hiding and just be himself. Besides, there’s someone who really, really loves the real and genuine and honest Jesper. ;)

Wylan Van Eck, a guy so far out of his league he may as well be in Ravka. In the first book, he’s the other add-on, the one no one really knows. He’s so-so at demolition, though he’s definitely learned much and he’s getting better at it. And his father is the very man who fucked them over, stole away Inej, and the one continuously trying to either a) kill them or b) ruin their lives by turning everyone against them, even the Dregs. Wylan is such a little cutie; a little oblivious at times, but with so much heart and bravery that he didn’t even realize he possessed. And he’s so obviously attracted to Jesper and Jesper is so obviously attracted to him but they take a damn long time to finally kiss GOD. I’m glad Wylan got his face back too, because it was a little creepy that he was Kuwei 2.0. And also because Wylan deserved all the good things. His father was an asshole who would have been happy to watch him die. This father who made fun of him for not being able to read and write and who was just overall so disappointed in his son. I mean, how dare Wylan not be perfect. Ugh. Wylan has to deal with that here too, the fact that his father wanted him dead, and also the fact that Jan lied about his mother being dead. Wylan has had such bad luck with family, but his teammates make him feel more at home than he’d ever felt in that mansion. And I’m so glad he got the happy ending that he so rightly needed and deserved, with a guy who likes who he is, inside and out.

We also get cameos of a few favorite characters from the Grisha trilogy. I can’t even begin to describe what I sounded and looked like as Sturmhond popped up on the pages. I FREAKED THE FUCK OUT I COULD HARDLY BREATHE OH MY GOD I KNEW IT. I had originally been like, nah it won’t happen after Kaz said he’d lied to Pekka about wanting him to get a message to Ravka’s king. But then it did and my life was made and I squealed so loud and long that I’m a little embarrassed and glad no one was around when it happened. I fucking love Sturmhond and that was such a fucking treat to have him back. (We didn’t get nearly enough time with him, BUT I DIGRESS, Leigh gave me everything I wanted and more). We also get to see Zoya and Genya again, two Grisha who’d been involved in the Civil War, on Alina’s side. (At least, I think so. I’m sure about Genya but can’t remember about Zoya). ANYWAY. Happy-making when I hit that spot in Crooked Kingdom.

But that happy-making went away during the end chapter. However, let’s talk about the plot and overall pace and such of the story beforehand. So this felt a lot less action-y than the first book, but I didn’t mind it so much. A LOT of this book was focused on character development, and honestly, I was totally okay with that. All six of the characters had stuff to work through and ships needed time to set sail a bit further. The plot was a lot of planning, and a bit of fighting, and secrets unraveling. Also, I really loved how Leigh didn’t give US, the readers, those plans. Because it was always surprising to me how everything came together and how the crew managed to do the impossible AGAIN. These thieves and murderers were not going to go down without a fight, and damn if they were going to give up. I loved their strength and their smarts, even their thrill-chasing hearts. And that chapter before the end one. OH MY GOD. It was everything. It was my ship finally setting sail. It was Kaz HOLDING INEJ’S HAND AND MAKING HER LAUGH AND SAYING “THAT’S THE LAUGH” AND MEETING HER PARENTS AND I CAN’T I CAN’T IT WAS SO PERFECT IT WAS ALL I EVER WANTED. But then. THEN. Pekka got the final chapter, and I wanted to cry, because it kind of overshadowed all the good that had come before. I know Leigh wanted to end it on him again, like she did the last book, but gah was it really necessary? Also not sure how I felt about the Wraith making one final appearance there. I just don’t know. I don’t understand why it was needed. But ah well, I can live with it honestly. That final Kaz and Inej scene was everything to me.

It’s honestly rare when I find a series that is so precious to me like this one. A series where I’m on baited breath until the final chapter when I can finally feel relieved that my faves all made it out alive. A series where I freak the fuck out over the small, seemingly inconsequential moments between my ships. And what a gloriousness of ships here. All the ships. A potential ship if Leigh ever wrote that Nikolai-centered trilogy. ;) Just, gah. I’m not even sure what more I can say here. I feel like I’ve involved myself almost too deeply with these characters and these books, but I can’t say I’m sorry about it. The series is brilliant.


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