My rating: 5 of 5 stars
WHEN YOU CAN’T BEAT THE ODDS, CHANGE THE GAME.
In reviewing this novel’s predecessor Six of Crows, I made a point of saying that one of my favourite things about the world of Ketterdam and The Dregs was the pervasive darkness that seeped into every breath these characters took. It was a cruel, unforgiving world, populated with despicable people, our protagonists included. That’s part of the draw, however — after all, who wants to read a story about six wholly morally upright, righteous characters who trust each other implicitly on a heist? Yeah, no, me neither.
“There are no good men in Ketterdam.”
Human beings are inherently flawed — anyone who says otherwise is selling something and you should challenge him/her to the pain — and none more so than The Dregs. Our favourite motley crew of vicious scoundrels is back to pick up in the wake of where Six of Crows left off. I like that Bardugo has fully committed to and entrenched herself within these characters. They all get equal screen-time and individual journeys beyond the main plot and story, and their narrative voices all remain delightfully unique and easily discernible from each other.
“Don’t worry, Da. People point guns at each other all the time in Ketterdam. It’s basically a handshake.”
I suppose I could detail the story of Crooked Kingdom out to you, but it’s honestly rather complicated, so let’s just chalk it up to revenge. There’s a lot of revenge going on here, and while we root for The Dregs rather wholeheartedly, the concept isn’t glorified. It’s rather like watching Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas: you’re drawn into the violence, practically seduced by it, before you suddenly have to pause and take a few mental steps back. You have to ask what it is that you find so alluring, and start questioning yourself more than anything else. Even a few of the characters with Crooked Kingdom do just that, and the moments of introspection are absolutely top-notch, both in execution and what they bring to the novel.
“Sometimes, the only way to get justice is to take it for yourself.”
This has always been a novel about the characters — amidst all the heists and deceptions and action, The Dregs’ internal struggles have always been the backbone of this duology. These flawed humans are really put through their paces in Crooked Kingdom; every single member endures and confronts some kind of emotional trauma. Special shoutout to Wylan, Jesper, and Kaz for having my favourite moments in that regard — especially Wylan, who is just a little cinnamon roll and deserves a hug…several hugs, really. But I digress…
“Suffering is like anything else. Live with it long enough, you learn to like the taste.”
I cannot speak about this novel without commending its ending, especially its final chapter. Without any spoilers, it’s one of the most dark, and yet savagely delightful concluding chapters to a series I’ve encountered in YA. To go back to my Scorsese comparison, it really doesn’t leave you cheering, but it doesn’t leave you crying either. It leaves you tense and unsettled, something this series really needed from its ending. Given this world and its characters and everything that happens, darkness still prevails; cruelty and harsh reality still remain.
After all: NO MOURNERS. NO FUNERALS.