Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

As you may know, I like to write fantasy. Every time I try to write a contemporary story or that science-fiction novel dancing in my head, it doesn't happen. I always default to fantasy. Some people might say that's a bad thing and I should widen my horizon, but honestly, fantasy is my favorite and I'm sticking to it. Thus, I also love to read fantasy. The worlds, the characters, the magic--it's all fantastic. And recently, I've been introduced to fantasy that goes beyond the same-old story, the same-old world-building of medieval Europe setting, and the same-old magic systems.

Leigh Bardugo, a YA high fantasy author, knows how to do fantasy, and I love it. Her first series, The Grisha trilogy, swept me away. I loved the world, most of the characters, and the entire magic system. I was eager for more, so I was stoked to hear she was writing a second series (a fabulous duology) set in the same world but with different characters. I needed it immediately.

Fast forward to this year, and the second book was released. If I had to choose one book to my favorite 2016 release, I would choose Crooked Kingdom (though it would be hard, so many books). I loved the Six of Crows duology even more than The Grisha trilogy.

What was it about Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom that not only gave me a grand adventure to enjoy with fantastic characters but has inspired my own writing to reach beyond the same-old fantasy? Let me tell you.

1. The characters

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom follows six unlikely heroes--actually they're thieves, assassins, and criminals--as they take on an impossible heist to not only become rich but possibly save lives. As I read Six of Crows, I couldn't find a favorite character. All six of the characters were wonderful. They had rich backstories, striking personalities, and swoon-worthy abilities. Every time I thought "This is it, this is the one I will love the most," I found myself enjoying another character just as much. I don't know if I've ever experienced a series where I loved each character equally and couldn't choose a favorite. I cared for all of them, and I wanted all of them to succeed.

2. Backstory
Speaking of characters and backstory, the way Leigh Bardugo wove the plot with the characters' backstories was truly magical. It never felt dull or awkward to be thrust suddenly into a flashback or a glimpse of something from their past. It all came together, perfectly crafted. I'm still amazed at how well she did that.

3. World-building

The Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology are set in a fictional world based on Russia instead of Western Europe. And I loved that it was different. The world-building is phenomenal. There is a lot of diversity and detail to every place the characters go and every country involved in the story. The Grisha trilogy had fantastic world-building as well, but I feel that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom was a step up. It's almost as if you can tell that Leigh Bardugo has grown in her story-telling craft.

4. Diversity
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is chock-full of diversity across the board. But it's never done in a trite or stereotypical way. Yes, race and beliefs come into play, but it's not the focus or a plot device. It's just part of who the characters are and what this world is made of. And it's fabulous. I'm tired of diverse themes being thrown into the story to create conflict or raise the stakes; I just want characters to be diverse because that is how the world truly is. Leigh Bardugo pulls that off splendidly.

5. Plot

The plot of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is wild. Leigh Bardugo basically described it as "Ocean's Eleven with magic," but I think it's better than that. It's a heist story filled with the bottom-of-the-barrel (pun definitely intended) characters that suddenly becomes so much more. While The Grisha trilogy was about saving the world, this is toned down a bit--sort of. It's not so big picture, but it's about saving your own skin and maybe your city from internal destruction. And I just love that. So many stories are about saving the world or the galaxy or whatever, but sometimes, I want a story that isn't so cataclysmic. And the Six of Crows duology is that. Yes, the stakes are raised. Yes, they still have to save a large population. But it just comes across different, I guess. Plus, every element of the plot is woven together in a fantastic way that kept me guessing and kept me interested. It was amazing. I admire Leigh Bardugo's writing so much.

6. Waffles
Okay, so this isn't a serious point, obviously, but I loved it nonetheless. In Crooked Kingdom, there are several (almost a dozen) instances where the characters mention waffles or are eating waffles. And it was hilarious. Despite the more-serious tone of the books or the darker themes, there was still room for humor and fun and just good-old bonding over waffles. It made me realize that I can write stories that are serious, that point to real-life situations and problems, but that also have a ray of hope and light amidst the darkness. Whether that hope is through humorous waffle scenes or characters that care for one another, I want to write stories that resound with the same feelings Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom evoked within me.

As always, I'm sure there can be flaws nitpicked from these books. Nothing is ever perfect. But nevertheless, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom stole a piece of my book-loving heart and gave me a grand adventure that I was able to enjoy and also learn from. That, in my opinion, makes for a wonderful story. I look forward to more by Leigh Bardugo.

No mourners. No funerals.

Why yes, I did meet Leigh Bardugo. You can read about it on The Fangirl Initiative.

What books have inspired you to make your writing better? 

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