2 stars · book review

book review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I’m finally here – so close but so far from closure. Spoilers + unorganized talk AHOY.

My unfinished GR review with thoughts just after I finished is here.

So ye, I wasn’t the biggest fan of SOC, as I have … repeatedly noted. It failed to capture my interest, but admittedly some elements were well thought out. I wasn’t a fan of how the heist was presented to us or sure when this break-neck heist pace was supposed to come in because I kept waiting and waiting and waiting until I reached the end of the book.

Crooked Kingdom does some things better than SOC and some things worse. I still really dislike how the heist plots are described in this book, though I feel the flow of the writing has improved, which I expect since LB tends to improve each book on the technical side of writing. It took me a long time to finish Crooked Kingdom, but it didn’t take as long as SOC. Because of this, I dated sections of my review because I had a lot of thoughts and not a lot of enjoyment.

2/18/2017: I can’t tell if it’s racist or bad writing or both. One of the first things that stood out to me because it was early on in Crooked Kingdom was this tidbit:

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It got worse the more I looked at it.

The scenes with Wylan disguised as Kuwei  was kind of weird – ’cause ya know Smeet’s an asshole that makes xenophobic comments, which can just be interpreted as parallels to actual xenophobia in the real world. But like at the same time… It’s not as poignant a scene to display this kind of attitude from some xenophobic rando  because this isn’t actually Kuwei in this body/face/disguise/etc (also is this yellowface whutttt?) – it’s Wylan. I’m confused by the choices in detail here. There are some notes about Wylan obviously not knowing any Shu and having to interact with tourists from Shu Han disguised as Kuwei and obviously him being called a foreigner by Smeet in disguised as Shu (MICROAGGRESSIVE AF) – which are things people of Asian descent face while living in predominantly non-Asian countries. BUT this experience isn’t relevant to Wylan because he isn’t Shu anyway. If LB was trying to depict this sort of experience, it shouldn’t have been Wylan’s.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this because I’m still vague on the author’s intent and additionally, obviously I’m using a real world comparison in a fictional setting (and then again, LB has invoked stereotypes from real life in her Grisha-verse that I took issue with back in Greg and SOC, so throw me a mcfreakin’ bone). BUT I cannot help but think this is a call back to all this stuff we’re seeing in Hollywood where they cast whites to fill Asian or Asian-American roles AND everyone’s fckin silent. This isn’t to accuse Crooked Kingdom of white-washing – ’cause that’s honestly not the situation I just described – it’d honestly teeter on yellowface tbh (that’s a whole other accusation to talk about so I won’t since idk how the Tailoring ability works). It’s just so prevalent that we’re even seeing it in something as progressive as the SOC series and missing it, which is a comment on how this problem effects more than JUST Hollywood. You’re not presenting the issue through the eyes of someone who would actually experience it. Yes, Wylan did experience this, obviously. However, it’s not relevant to his identity because he’s in disguise. He doesn’t have to deal with this in his life when he’s not pretending to be Kuwei.

And honestly, why couldn’t Wylan just use the excuse that he’s Kerch of Shu descent or smth? – If that’s how immigration works in Greg-verse. Bitches in real life be surprised about this, so if he gets a surprise reaction in univere what’s the big woop?

Gahhh you see??? Only one small passage riles me up because the more I look at it the more problems I find. This happens like. Every Leigh Bardugo book for me, y’all. Vague enough for it to be passable, but present enough for me to be like ??? Help me.

Kazlan ftw – Starting to like Kaz a lot more in the passage where he and Wylan talk about Wylan’s mom in the beginning. I wish LB would have introduced Kaz to us like this. I found his initial introduction in SOC to be quite jarring – and it was obviously pushing the Dirty Hands image very. It wasn’t as subtle as I would have liked. Perhaps maybe this time Wylan’s POV did help now that we’re finally getting more of them.

Matthias is the straight man amongst everyone and tbh he’s the one that makes the most sense.

3/4/17: More Kazlan ftw – About 55ish% through we do get real ENTJ Kaz showing his real ENTJness (with Wylan interaction, ofc) instead of that fake persona we’re supposed to buy into because apparently Kaz sells it well enough for everyone else to believe he’s a heartless bastard. Here’s the passage I particularly liked – I think it’s one of the stronger moments in the entire book. Then again, most Kaz and Wylan moments are very strong.

Photo Mar 04-2.png
Why have Kanej when I have Kazlan.

My progress is 60% through right now. I honestly think Kaz and Wylan have the strongest chemistry of the squad lol (taking shipping into account!). Matthias has grown on me, and Inej as well. I do feel though, the way we’re presented with everyone’s characterization is kind of backwards in order. What I mean by that is one and a half books have gone by and the characters have been written with a degree of detachment narrative-wise  and only now am I actually starting to get a sense of who these people are supposed to be. I wish everything we got about Inej was included ealier in the series.

More “Do My People Wrong TM (by not actually having them there Hollywood style)” and other weird world/culture building. Also lmao Wylan has been asian in this book for longer than most asian am actors have been asian in a goddamn hollywood movie. THE TROPE IS SO PERVASIVE, IT’S EVEN IN BOOKS, Y’ALL. And… honestly… was this all to make him feel the pain when his mom didn’t recognize him because he was in Kuwei disguise?? Ok, Bardugo. We even got Nina talking to this random guy who’s half Kaelish and he responds “Ma was Kaelish. I don’t speak that gibber,” but yeah it’s ok if Jesper is like – nooo Wylan disguised as Kuwei can’t speak Kerch because he’s (not really) Shu!!!! Ok, Bardugo.

Photo Mar 20.png
But apparently Asian Wylan shouldn’t be able to speak Kerch.

On the bright side, the world finally has some semblence of culture(s), though I’m not too impressed with the real world copy pasta happening here. At least it’s all consistent within this world.

It is interesting how Matthias’ culture is portrayed as “savage” – ’cause he did have that noble savage stock character thing going on. This pan-Scandinavian viking culture is like backwards witch hunters with primitive ideals …, but can we stop pretending that it’s always the supposedly “savage” cultures with backwards ideals that should be questioned? I think I see what LB is trying to do, but I would urge people to compare this with how M.E. Pearson portrayed the Vendans in the Kiss of Deception because they’re initially described as a more “primitive” people, but when we actually get to know them the dynamic between Venda and the other countries is way more complex than [barbarians = backwards and evil] and not [barbarians = righteous and good]. Backwards ideals should be questioned, but they can come from any kind of society.

Matthias has a good moment with Kuwei and Jesper where he shows off his smarts and starts appreciating Grisha power. There’s a lot of insight we get about Fjerdan culture through previous Matthias chapters which is fine, but I’m not too sure why Djel and stuff has to do with hating Grisha and all that jazz in the passage after Matty is successful with the ghost haunting thing.

3/06/2017: So Stormhound (I refuse to type Sturmhond except for this once) appeared for a cameo that wasn’t really necessary, but I’ll take Nikolai fanservice where I can get it. All this talk of “maybe Alys will marry a prince” in the text… is this a S/O to me because that’s my name but with the ~fantasy world~ spelling lmao.

Photo Mar 06.jpeg
Me too, Jesper. Me too.

 

Such Chemistry (the science, not love), much paraphrasing of research? – Yo what’s up with this very technical chemistry talk out of nowhere – the elements are taken straight off our world’s periodic table, which I have a hard time swallowing because you’d think the Gregverse would have their own vocabulary for this sort of thing. It sounds like regurgitation of cliffnotes chemistry. I do like the addition of Wylan being the chemist, but I feel like it’s very tacked on. Like, yeah it’s an attempt to make the characters multi-faceted because they have multiple talents they bring to the table, but if these aren’t really explored in much detail it just comes off as pulling off more you can chew. I actually forgot that Wylan blew stuff up (mentioned in the 1st book?) until now.

On a side note, I had a similar problem with Inej this time around. The POV jumps around all the time, so even a chara like Inej, who’s probably the most solid as a chara, suffers from the constant POV shift even her linear storyline (as linear as it can get from all the flash backs) seems all over the place.

Actually, no, not a side note. It’s time to talk about Inej and Inej vs. Dunyasha.

Actual Chemistry (not science, not really love, but dat chemistry) between Inej and Dunyasha.

Oh, Dunyasha. You left us too early. Dunyasha is like this universe’s Anastasia wannabe figure if you go by the the FOX animated Anastasia story but more Celaena Sardothien flavored ham. I do feel like Dunyasha appeared out of nowhere, a lot like the sudden interest in Wylan’s chemistry skills. I appreciate it, but I felt there wasn’t much reasoning to include these things so late in the game.

Dunyasha is supposed to be like a contrast to Inej because Dunyasha is supposed royalty she gets the grand narrative chosen one destiny and expert training to be the Best Assassin Ever TM meanwhile Inej is a “nobody” + basically the antithesis of Dunyasha according to the text and in the end Inej wins because she listened to Kaz’s no brainer advice and because shes Not Like These Girls TM. While I understand this was like a jab at the lost princess turned badass assassin/warrior trope, I rolled my eyes because 1) I actually wanted Dunyasha and Inej to become pirate assassin girlfriends (i.e. get along) and 2) I didn’t appreciate that we have to prop one as better than the other (even if Chosen One Best Assassin Ever is usually propped up to be better than everyone else, I don’t appreciate flipping it around even if it’s for subversion). I didn’t really understand how this contributed to the narrative besides hinting at Gregverse continuation. – Is Inej trying to reconnect with herself as a person? That was my best guess because that would make sense for a complete character arc… I’m just getting mixed signals on what I’m supposed to be seeing.

BUT BACK TO DUNYASHA AND INEJ CHEMISTRY. Narrative importance aside, these girls had amazing chemistry together from the first page they’re together. I felt this more than I’ve felt for Kanej for the entire series. Missed opportunity, your location is here. Dunyasha x Inej is where it’s at.

The Wraith – idk I’ll leave this hereIdk if LB sought advice for writing Suli culture or if she has prior knowledge, but a lot of boxes are checked. Idk bc there hasn’t been much discussion or maybe I was too late to the party to see it happen in real time, but I feel Gregverse borrows on a lot of cultural stereotypes from A LOT of cultures that we don’t usually see addressed. I’ve already exhausted everything I’ve had to say about the matter, but since this blog is relatively new ofc no one listens to me because I have no audience besides my friends who see me rant about books and oblige me.

I didn’t remember that Ketterdam had gangs until they said The Dime Lions were a gang – the plot is lackluster and all over the place, which was a poor backdrop for the back and forth POV torch handoffs which were all over the place too.

And 3/07/2018 – Goodbye Thor I mean Matthias

I really resent the Matthias is a big blonde Zuko comment because avatar is too near and dear to my heart for a book i don’t like to use they are different characters but with somehwat similar arcs but diffierent circumstances i will not have this defiled –this BUT if we’re gonna use ATLA references might I suggest…

Jesper = Katara – his story about losing his mom and the Greg powers… is just like Katara as the last Southern Water Tribe waterbender storyline.

Matthias = Zuko but not a prince just some random guy who finds out his country isn’t 100% great. But yeah They Gotta Be the Same just because they question their country.

Jetthias lives, but actually doesnt because Matty ded.

So yes, in the end, we did have conclusions for the main 6 charas. On reflection, the individual stories would be good character arcs if there were a well-knit plot to tie it all together. Rather than a cohesive narrative, it feels like I got character vignettes for 6 ppl who happen to know each other.

TLDR for Crooked Kingdom – 2 out of 5 stars:

  • Worldbuilding is still rubbish. Iffy on the way this book portrays immigration, but then again I’d be applying real world dynamics to a fantasy world… wait isn’t that what Crooked Kingdom and the rest of the Gregverse books do?
  • Characters are well thought out (IDEAS ARE GOOD), but the story telling is lacking emotional impact and is disjointed by skipping back and forth between POVs that shouldn’t be separated as POVs in the first place because it’s just 3rd person (Execution is ehhh). This doesn’t play to the advantage you have of having some nicely laid out character arcs that could have played out in other plot backdrops with a few details changed.
    • Wylan POV was welcome, tho.
    • Jesper’s dad was great too. Finally we have an adult.
    • Nina and Matthias arc was done in SOC… wasn’t really much for them to do here except stuff about death.
    • Kaz had a few good moments but mostly defaulted to the haughty, damaged/tragic backstory NTJ stereotype. Nothing new.
    • Glad Inej got her happy ending. Ambivalent on how we got there and ambivalent on the cultural stereotypes surrounding her because she’s the only prominent Suli (pseudo Romani in Gregverse) character (besides the van Eck henchman whose name I don’t remember). I don’t think Inej is a bad character, but I’m a lil’ side eye because your only brown girl got the child abduction and sex slavery storyline. At least it’s not the Dick Greyson mess, but a different mess.
    • Kuwei got shafted because Wylan was better at being Asian than him.
    • Established romantic relationships lack chemistry, but  Kaz + Wylan and Inej+Dunyasha and Matthias + Jesper interactions were great.
    • Literally could not tell the villains apart.
  • Even tho gangs and all that shady business are at the forefront of this world, I forgot they were there because the writing wasn’t engaging.
  • The banter was alright at times but groan-worthy at other times.
  • I’m so done with this universe (sans Nikolai) and LB’s writing.

 

 

 

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