A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This resourceful gang of thieves relies on careful planning for their nearly impossible missions, and each member of the team is relied upon for his or her particular talents. In Crooked Kingdom, we get a lesson in high-wire walking/fighting and the myriad ways thieves launder money. Budding psychology students get an up-close look at both drug and gambling addiction here and what each addicted person is up against while working toward recovery.
Just like in Book 1, there's a lot about overcoming loss and suffering and fighting for survival. Greed, power, and revenge drive much of what happens on the surface, but a longing for connection and loyalty are the underlying motivators that keep the six main characters together. Crooked Kingdom also focuses heavily on managing fear and shame and how not repeating the same mistakes and not continuing to do harm is better than simply apologizing.
Positive Role Models
Characters are driven by revenge and the fight for their own survival but also driven to protect each other and those preying on the powerless. Kaz worries that his soft spot for Inej will get in the way of his abilities to protect his team, but he discovers how much he needs that connection and begins to nurture it. Matthias and Nina both work to overcome their prejudices to be together; Nina's struggles with an addiction to a drug and the loss of her abilities make her an even more resilient character in the end. Wylan overcomes his shame of a disability to find his own voice and power, while Jesper overcomes his fears of facing the father he's wronged to make amends.
Violence & Scariness
Some gory moments, the worst being a gunshot in an eye socket: "[T]he blast didn't just take her eye but most of the top of her skull." An important character is shot and killed. A torture scene includes a mallet that almost shatters a leg. Main characters take some truly bloody beatings (killing some in the process, including a man with broken nails in his windpipe). They are also shot at repeatedly and pelted with knives and throwing stars (one time on a high wire with no net). Explosions injure people, and a pandemic causes panic. Corpses turn zombie-like or are taken out of morgues. A woman falls to her death with talk of another dangled over a ledge, then killed for information. Plenty of stories of the misfortunes of the main characters in their past include nearly being strangled to death, watching family members die, being beaten working in a brothel and losing connection to your own body while working there, being psychologically tortured as a young soldier, being sold as a slave.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kissing, innuendo, and flirting between older teens, both straight and gay.
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One "f--king" and a few uses of "ass," "damn," "hell," "son of a bitch," "bitch," and "bastard."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
One character works on recovering from a serious drug addiction and asks for the drug often. They're all teens from the underbelly of society who have had hard lives, so there are plenty of mentions of bars and drinking until drunkenness, especially during gambling. People drink champagne at a gambling house, and there's some whiskey and brandy drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Leigh Bardugo's Crooked Kingdom, the follow-up to the riveting Six of Crows, is related to her Grisha trilogy, but you can read Six of Crows and this sequel without reading the other series first. As with Six of Crows, the content is consistently mature and a better fit for mature teen readers -- high schoolers, not middle schoolers. Characters are complex, flawed, and sometimes responsible for some of the worst violence. While there's no arena fighting in this one, there are a few jarringly gory moments, the worst being a gunshot in an eye socket: "[T]he blast didn't just take her eye but most of the top of her skull." An important character is shot and killed, a torture scene includes a mallet that almost shatters a leg, and main characters take some truly bloody beatings (killing some in the process, including a man with broken nails in his windpipe). They are also shot at repeatedly and pelted with knives and throwing stars (one time on a high wire with no net). Explosions injure people, and corpses turn zombie-like or are taken out of morgues. Other mature content includes kissing and flirting, both straight and gay, and some drinking and drug and gambling addiction among teens. Strong language is pretty infrequent, with only one use of "f--king." Characters are driven by revenge and the fight for their own survival but also by a need for connection. They work to protect each other from those preying on the powerless.
Is It Any Good?
Like the amazing Inej on a high wire, this satisfying sequel is both incredibly exciting and well balanced. Crooked Kingdom may have a bit less action than the nonstop Six of Crows, but readers who feel invested in these fascinating and flawed characters won't mind fewer gladiator-style prison fights in favor of a better grasp of Wylan's fear of his evil father or Jesper's fear of his good one and his gambling addiction. Between plotting and scheming to stay ahead of absolutely everyone -- gang bosses, merchants, police, whole foreign kingdoms -- readers are treated to a real understanding of these characters, of the nature and power of addiction and PTSD, and even of the damaging effects of slavery, prostitution, and prejudice.
And then we get back to the action. Yes, Kaz stays one step ahead even though it always looks as if he's not. But were it not for Nina's frightening new gift, Inej's ability to dodge knives at unspeakable heights, Jesper's unerring shooting accuracy, and the astounding talents of the rest of the crew, all of Kaz's uber-complex plans would go nowhere. It's a nail-biting joy to watch it all unfold and to see this ultimate team of underdogs best an entire city of enemies.
Did we miss something on diversity?
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