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.
Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.
I feel like I want to squeal all over about this book, happiness infusing every word, and make everyone start reading it. I honestly don’t even know how it took me so long to start it, because if there’s something that’s guaranteed to get my attention it’s anything to do with a heist. But somehow this one slipped under my radar – though it could also be that I assumed I needed to read the Grisha Trilogy first, which you definitely do not as I still haven’t (but oh, I plan to).
I had my doubts about how a book could pull off what I loved so much about Ocean’s Eleven – the intrigue of the heist, the planning and still never quite knowing what’s going on, and the pure fun of it. I won’t say it was pure fun, because this book is much darker than anything I was expecting, but there was so much snarky humor between its pages that I was enamoured. I won’t say a lot about the plot, because I think most of the joy comes in discovering the how of everything as it’s occurring. When I’m right next to these characters wondering how in the hell they’re going to get out of this tight-spot, or what they’re going to do next, and flipping pages, absolutely invested, even when I should be doing something else….it’s something I look for in every book I pick up. This story is gripping and a page-turner. I loved every roller-coaster moment of it.
“What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.
Kaz rolled his eyes. “The easiest way to steal a man’s wallet is to tell him you’re going to steal his watch.”
Normally, world building will be one of the biggest draws for me in a book. I love to get lost in a world, know it, understand it, and come out the other side wanting to go back. I’m not sure, entirely, if it’s because I haven’t read the Grisha series or if it’s a (slight) lack here, but I never got a really good handle on the world. I feel pretty comfortable now (since I’ve gone to look up a map – which is included in the paper books apparently. Ahh, the downsides of ebooks. Here’s that map, because if you’re anything like me you’d like to have a good understanding of where these places are they’re talking about.
See that little island down at the bottom? Kerch? That’s the axis that this book revolves around. A “hypercapitalist, trading superpower” of a country where nothing is not for sale. But I do still think there are some liberties taken, assumptions made that readers know Ravka (where the Grisha Trilogy centers) and some of the other cultures. But it’s such a small thing. And it’s only a niggle as I finished that I wanted to be more immersed in the world out there. I wanted to understand where all these characters came from, all their histories, and the histories of their people.
The deal is the deal.
Because the characters here are amazing. There are five point-of-view characters that we regularly switch between – and thank you, Leigh Bardugo for doing it chapter by chapter. There are four that I’d call the “main” characters for the majority of the book, and I fell in love with each of them immediately. They’re all so broken. And I do love my broken characters. And then we slowly get to pull back the layers of their histories, personal and intertwined, making me fall deeper and deeper in love with them. Sometimes I think there must be something wrong with me that I like my characters to start with such adversity, such obstacles blocking their paths to happiness.
The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.
Kaz definitely has a lot of obstacles. On the surface you see ruthless determination. He’s the one that will do anything and break any rule in order to bring about the outcome he desires. He’s a confidence man that constantly stacks the deck in his own favor. And he’s so good that when things are at their worst, I fully expected him to have planned for that contingency.
“Greed is your god, Kaz.”
He almost laughed at that. “No, Inej. Greed bows to me. It is my servant and my lever.”
Inej, probably my favorite if I had to pick one, is absolutely amazing. She has this centered calmness about her, even if sometimes it’s absolutely the last thing she’s feeling herself. And her character growth and development as the story progresses is one of the most satisfying arcs I’ve read.
She gave him a tiny jab in the side so that he could feel the point of her second dagger pressed against his kidney.
“Please,” he moaned. “I–”
“I like it when men beg,” she said. “But this isn’t the time for it.”
Nina is another favorite. I love that she’s strong and powerful, and loyal – even when those loyalties may be conflicting. I love how she uses smart-ass remarks and comments to dig into other people (one in particular), sometimes showing the absolute ridiculousness of their stance. I love that she pushes on, even when she’s afraid, even when she knows it could cost her everything. And I love that she gives of herself when she finds the people worthy.
“For Saint’s sake, drüskelle, what’s wrong with you? I just wanted to be warm. I promise not to ravish you in your sleep.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” he said irritably.
Her grin was vicious. “Then you’re as stupid as you look.”
Matthias was the one I feel like I shouldn’t have liked right away. I did. I loved him from the moment he was choking the life out of another character (whom I also love). What is wrong with me?! And the further we delved into his history, the more I adored him. He’s truly broken, having been raised with almost cult-like teachings that have guided the majority of his life. Watching him try to balance on a knife’s edge of his own loyalties – which were beginning to split and fray – and realizing that everything he thought he knew might not have been the actual truth was heartbreaking, and I wanted him to have everything good if he came out the other side.
“Jer molle pe oonet. Enel mörd je nej afva trohem verretn.” I have been made to protect you. Only in death will I be kept from this oath.
These characters had a way of wending into my heart almost immediately. It’s not often that I immediately fall in love with characters, that I start rooting and hoping for them with their first thoughts, but I think I did here. They’re rough, broken, hurt, and betrayed, but they keep on pushing, they don’t give up, and they will never stop. Thank the gods.
Now excuse me while I go dive into Crooked Kingdom.
No mourners. No funerals.