You may have noticed that the frequency of our posts has gone down a bit. You’re not wrong! The witches have been waylaid by life, as of late, but we are not gone. We’ll be taking our traditional winter hiatus and will be
back with more Coven Chats after the New Year breaks.
Until then, please enjoy our chat about Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom. As always, remember that we are discussing spoilers for the book and the series at large, so if you haven’t read the books, don’t read the chat yet!
Nicola: I really liked the change in tone in Crooked Kingdom, compared to the first book; the story flows really well from one to the other. In Six of Crows, while the characters are risking their lives and are doing something terribly dangerous and not entirely sensible, they are, broadly, in control. It was their decision to take on this heist, and they pull it off successfully. In Crooked Kingdom that’s turned on its head.
Allison: This is interesting and I completely agree. Six of Crows had a very slick, heisty feeling to it — almost like Ocean’s Eleven. All of the chaos and danger was really entertaining. This book turned that over in the best way possible. It complicated the characters in a way that I wasn’t expecting. It was more complex, emotionally.
Alyssa: True. Perhaps this has to do with how the characters overcome adversity. Even though the group’s conflict with Pekka Rollins and Jan Van Eck still drives the plot in Crooked Kingdom, the characters seem to struggle more substantially with their inner demons than they do in Six of Crows. Thus, their ability to overcome their internal conflicts is perhaps more important than their triumph over their enemies.
Nicola: I loved the re-appearance of characters like Zoya, Genya and Sturmhond (I loved all the little references to King Nikolai, too). It was done in a way that I think wouldn’t have made anything seem out of place to those who hadn’t read the original Grisha trilogy, but it added a nice touch for readers who had, especially seeing Nina’s relationship with them. I can so easily see young Zoya growing up into a stern mentor!
Nicola: Zoya and Genya, especially, were amongst my favourite characters in the original trilogy because they were so enigmatic. Neither was villainous, but likewise neither was a pure heroine. To see Nina in the same place they were – a young Grisha soldier who doesn’t always make the most sensible choices – viewing them as the responsible adults was interesting.
Allison: YES! This is one of the reasons I think Bardugo will come back to the Grishaverse. These books proved that she has a way of remixing her characters that is fresh and allows her newer story not to be overshadowed by the old. I think there’s a lot going on here that can (and will!) be developed. I know Bardugo’s new series will be in a different worldbuilding framework, but she has said she’s not done with the Grisha, so I’m looking forward to more storytelling like this.
Nicola: I really, really, really like the development of Kaz and Inej’s relationship. They both have a lot of trauma that would make it unrealistic if they were to suddenly fall into bed together, but in that sense the small intimacies they have are all the more powerful, because to touch another person for them like they do is a huge moment of vulnerability.
Allison: I thought this was a really great development, especially for a YA series. There are lots of teenagers (and people, in general), who for a variety of reasons may not feel as ruled by hormones as we sometimes get use to seeing young people portrayed. This was a complicated issue and I was so glad to see a different framework for sexuality portrayed here.
Alyssa: Yes! I also really like the development of Kaz and Inej’s relationship for the reasons both of you mention, and that these strong characters are struggling with trauma.
Nicola: Speaking of Kaz, I really enjoyed the way we get a better understanding of whom he is in this book. I remember in our Six of Crows discussion we talked about how he was the character we all felt was the hardest to really understand, and I think that’s still true in this book, but to a lesser extent. I mean, there were times when I thought his brutality was purely for survival, but at the same time I was never quite sure if he really had kidnapped and buried Pekka Rollins’ young son. He manages to play the line between ‘brutal enough to survive’ and downright cruel.
Allison: I enjoyed the fact that we don’t get to push Kaz into a “white hat/black hat” place. Inej is firmly in the “criminal with a heart of gold” category. We understand her crime and can easily justify her actions because ultimately, she is noble. Kaz, on the other hand, doesn’t get “outed” in this book as secretly noble, which I love. He stays firmly in that “grey” area and refuses to get out. I think Inej’s understanding of that fact complicates her as well, in a way I wasn’t expecting.
Alyssa: I love that all of the characters–and especially Kaz–are complex and can’t be pigeon-holed. Kaz remains complicated and morally ambiguous, and he’s just as likely to act brutally as nobly. Jesper is also a complicated character who has done “bad things,” but he feels more shame and empathy than Kaz as a result. Jesper is not cruel in the same way that Kaz is. Perhaps, this has something to do with the fact that Jesper has a father who loves him, whereas Kaz has been abandoned or betrayed by those he’s loved.
Nicola: I loved Jesper’s father. In a story like this, the parents naturally can’t be present much because then there’d be no story, but in contrast to his friends, he’s the only one who ever had anything like a choice in the matter. Wylan’s father disowned him, Nina was taken to join the Second Army as a child, Kaz’s family is dead, and Inej was abducted and sold. Jesper, on the other hand, chose to avoid his father out of shame, and in spite of all that his father still loves him and tries his best to look out for him.
Allison: And it makes sense that he would come looking for him. It also puts the little world the crew has built for themselves into sharp relief. They are playing a dangerous game, an adult game, and the arrival of Jesper’s father complicates that dynamic significantly. We get to see that yes, they are still children, but also they’ve entered a world where there are no children. The underbelly of Ketterdam doesn’t allow for childhood.
This is part of what makes Kaz such a complex character, but really is what makes Bardugo’s characterization really masterful. She’s very carefully laid out for readers what happens when children are forced into servitude, sex trades, poverty and wars: they become adults, and often they become criminals. When Jesper’s father arrives, we see that very clearly.
Jesper had the opportunity to be a child and he chose against it, but the others did not and we get a chance to really see the horrors of the Grishaverse because they are contexualized in such a way that we understand that not everyone is having this same experience (as opposed to the Shadow and Bone series where war has taken over everyone’s lives and there are no “children”). However, there are university students in Ketterdam that are having a very “normal” late adolescence, which Jesper is supposed to be having. That experience exists right alongside what Kaz’s crew has always had. I think it’s remarkable commentary on how privilege and the lack thereof, so often exist literally on top of one another.
Nicola: Yes! And I think we see that in a different way with Wylan, too. Jesper doesn’t come from a wealthy background, but he comes from a loving one. Wylan, on the other hand, is more traditionally privileged, but because of his father he was also deprived of the chance to be a normal teenager, even though his father had the means to allow him to do so.
I cried when Matthias died. To be honest, Matthias was probably my least favourite of the group, so if someone had to die I’m glad it was him, but still! Nina’s one of my favourites so I felt sad by proxy.
Alyssa: Matthias is also probably my least favorite character of the group, but I may like his character development the most. While all of the characters have struggled with and overcome a lot of internal and external conflicts, Matthias perhaps evolves the most–because of his love for Nina.
I think this series needs someone like Matthias, whose personality we may not like, but who is transformed by his love for “the enemy.” Nina is also one of my favorite characters, and I felt sad for her when Matthias dies. And yet, I also like that Nina does not seem devastated by his death, and we are left feeling hopeful about her future.
Allison: I was sad about Matthias, but like both of you, Nina is one of my favorite characters so I’m hoping this means we’re going to see more of her. I’m hoping this twist is an opening for another series. I think it seems clear from this book that Bardugo isn’t done with the Grisha. It seems to me that there are too many big worldbuilding plotlines left open for her to be done with it.
Nicola: Yes! I definitely feel like the Grishaverse is Bardugo’s “Middle-earth”, so to speak, in that it’s her one world she’ll keep returning to.
Alyssa: I’m also hoping for another series set in the Grishaverse, and I’d love to see more of these characters. But I’m also glad that this series ends without a lot of ambiguity and loose-ends; we have closure. I also like that this series includes characters from the Grisha trilogy, so that we have a satisfying end to both series.
Allison: I feel like Crooked Kingdom gives us a close to one part of the story, but leaves open a whole world of storytelling for Bardugo’s future, which I confess, I love! Thanks everyone for joining us today. Warmest wishes for your holiday season and we’ll see you again in 2017!
Allison, Alyssa and Nicola