Book Review: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom

six of crowsSix of Crows (479 pages)
Crooked Kingdom (561 pages)
by Leigh Bardugo
Fantasy
Published 2015/2016

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are a duology set in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Grisha being the magic users in her world. I haven’t read the rest of the Grishaverse (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising) – but I will definitely be doing so, because Crows and Crooked Kingdom are AMAZING. I’m also looking forward even more to Bardugo’s Wonder Woman novel, Warbringer.

I was pretty surprised – normally books rotating between several viewpoints are confusing, but Bardugo handles the transitions seamlessly and unmistakably. I was never unsure of what character I was reading – each one really had their own unique voice. I also loved that she worked in an LGBT romance without it being in any way odd. No one in the novel found non-heterosexuality weird at all. It was treated just as matter of factly as opposite-sex romances, and I loved that.

Six of Crows opens on a gang being blackmailed into a job they don’t want to do. I can totally see the gang has a D&D group – and the books definitely feel a bit like a D&D campaign, albeit one with a mostly experienced group and a very experienced DM. crookedkingdom

You’ve got Kaz, the ringleader, who’s an all-around great thief but a superb tactician.

Inej, the acrobat assassin.

Jesper, the marksman hiding his magic ability.

Wylan, the rich merchant’s son on the outs with his father and fallen in with a bad crowd, and talented with demolitions.

Nina, the sexpot who wields magic, and has a love/hate relationship with Mathias, the barbarian who’s spent his life hunting magic users but is irresistibly attracted to Nina. (I can see the DM telling these two to hash out a background that will let them co-exist, which they obviously did.)

Each character has a complex back story that influences most of their actions, and different relationships with other members of the gang that also affects how they react. Their back stories don’t just explain their actions in the books, people and events from their backgrounds also show up to complicate matters in the present. The wheels-within-wheels of the plotline is EXACTLY what I love about good political fantasies. The world-building is superb, and Bardugo has given just as much thought to the seedy underbelly of her world as she has the magic and politics.

I really, really loved this duology, and I see now why people rave about this universe. It is VERY well deserved.

From the cover of Six of Crows:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Empire’s Ghost

empghostThe Empire’s Ghost
Isabelle Steiger
High/Epic Fantasy
419 pages
Published 2017

So I’ve had pretty good luck with debut novels, overall. (The Golem and the Jinni, The Crown’s Game, and The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic come to mind.) This one was good – not what I’d called spectacular, like those three, but good. If the sequel was out now, I’d read it. Knowing my reading habits, I probably won’t, because by the time the sequel does come out, I’ll have forgotten too much of this first book. (I strongly dislike only reading the first book in a series and then having to wait.)

What I really liked was how the author painted every character. Even the would-be Emperor, who is probably the closest to evil any character is in this book, was interesting and had clear motivations that made sense. I wouldn’t even call him evil, just ambitious. His assassin shows a different side in part of the book that also removes him from the “evil” category. I’m impressed that Steiger manager to set up several factions at odds with each other without making any of them evil. Wrong, perhaps, misguided perhaps, but not evil. Which is unusual in high fantasy.

What I disliked was there was a point in the middle where I had to set aside the book for real life – and I almost never picked it up again. Three days later, I finally did, but to me, that means I wasn’t invested in the characters or the story. I could have moved on to a different book, and I almost did. I liked most of the characters – but without liking any of them enough to truly care what happened. I also wish the pacing was a little faster, but that’s a victim of too many viewpoints, I think.

So I could go either way on this book. It was well-written but a little slow and didn’t just GRAB me the way some books do.

From the cover of The Empire’s Ghost:

The empire of Elesthene once spanned a continent, but its rise heralded the death of magic. It tore itself apart from within, leaving behind a patchwork of kingdoms struggling to rebuild. 

But when a new dictator, the ambitious and enigmatic Imperator Elgar, seizes power in the old capital and seeks to re-create the lost empire anew, the other kingdoms have little hope of stopping him. Prince Kelken of Reglay finds himself at odds with his father at his country’s darkest hour; the marquise of Esthrades is unmatched in politics and strategy, but she sits at a staggering military disadvantage. And Issamira, the most powerful of the free countries, has shut itself off from the conflict, thrown into confusion by the disappearance of its crown prince and the ensuing struggle for succession.

Everything seems aligned in Elgar’s favor, but when he presses a band of insignificant but skilled alley-dwellers into his service for a mission of the greatest secrecy, they find an unexpected opportunity to alter the balance of power in the war. Through their actions and those of the remaining royals, they may uncover not just a way to defeat Elgar, but also a deeper truth about their world’s lost history.

Set in a fantastical world that is both welcomingly familiar and excitingly unique, The Empire’s Ghost shows nobles and commoners alike struggling to survive and maintain power in an ever-changing, chaotic world.