For the past week I’ve been slowly making my way through the sequel of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Crooked Kingdom, in every way possible, is exceeding the beauty and hype that the first one left me (and millions of others) with. At this point, my husband knows that whenever I’m talking about a book, I’m raving about this one.
Warning: This blog post is filled with LIGHT spoilers, mild literary talk, and a truck load of fangirling.
The first thing any reader will notice about these books is their stunning beauty. I will admit that I judged this book by it’s cover, and the cover was gooooood. It presents itself in the black lined pages, dark illustrated map, and beautiful chapter illustrations. But the beauty of this book doesn’t come from the cover or the color choices, it comes from the story and the words within. Much like the red-lined pages of the sequel, it bleeds character, emotion, and and plot. What you see with these books is, very much, what you get.
It’s taken the internet by storm. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a surge of fan art, jewelry, posters, t-shirts, pillows, and a hundred other trinkets for a book. And I think that’s because Bardugo tapped into some vital aspects of novel writing– especially when writing from the bad boy’s perspective.
3 Things I’ve Learned from Crooked Kingdom (so far)
- First Drafts Aren’t Final Drafts
First drafts aren’t final drafts. First drafts aren’t final drafts. First drafts aren’t… I want that track repeated again and again as I peck out the first draft of anything. Most writers suffer from wanting to get the words right on the first try, but that’s not how this works. Terry Pratchett once said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” I can see no better evidence of that than within the pages of these books. They are, in their core, heist novels. Go out, steal the thing, face complications, dupe the audience, and celebrate your riches. It seems linear, but it’s so much more than that. Kaz Brekker, the leader of the gang, constantly has secrets up his sleeve and tricks he started on page one, but we weren’t perceptive enough to notice. Something mentioned in the first chapter becomes vital in later chapters and the only way to fluently include that in a novel is in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts.
A line, motif, or metaphor you use for a character likely doesn’t happen in the first draft. It takes writing and re-writing to make the connection in another character’s head. Then you go back and implement your new trick.
- Description Becomes Beautiful When We See It Through the Character’s Eyes
A piece of advice I’ve seen rampant on the internet is that you shouldn’t have a page without dialogue. There needs to be dialogue somewhere because most readers skip to it anyway. But that’s only if they’re bored with what they’re reading. They won’t give a damn how immaculate the spires of the church are if architecture doesn’t tell us something about the character.
There [on the rooftops], she felt most herself again– the girl she’d once been, someone who hadn’t had the sense to be afraid, who hadn’t know what cruelty the world could offer. She’d gotten to know the gabled peaks and window boxes of the Zelverstraat, the gardens and the manufacturing district gave way to foul-smelling slaughterhouses and brining pits hidden at the very outskirts of the city, where their offal could be sluiced into the swamp at Ketterdam’s edge… The city had revealed it’s secrets to her almost shyly, in flashes of grandeur and squalor. (p.148)
Here we get a clearer view of Ketterdam from Inej. She’s been freed of a horrible ordeal that’s left her more shaken than she’ll admit, but she grounds herself back into the city that she’d lost herself in. We see the world from her point of view– a watcher from the heights who sees more than the average person would. Seeing the city reminds her of where she’s been and where she wants to go.
She goes on to describe a sign for spices, decorated with women of her race, and it terrifies her. It reminds her of her terrible past, but also reminds the reader of Ketterdam’s value on making people things. They are items worth purchasing, enjoying, and then throwing away. In this way, Bardugo goes on for at least 2 pages with nothing BUT description and I couldn’t be more enthralled to read it all.
- Background Can Bleed Onto the Page
One of the hardest lessons I’m still learning is that background shouldn’t be on the page. At least, not in multitude. It should be like a flirtatious encounter. You introduce a character as what you want them to be known by and you hide all the dirty secrets for the first few chapters. Hook your reader in plot and setting. Then, ever so slowly, you give them hints about the horrors, laughs, and mistakes hidden in the past. But that’s the key… Only hints.
Bardugo subtly introduces hints about a character’s inner emotions, their secret wants, and their dire pasts when they are caught up in thought or quick actions. It’s like the character slips and release a small key to what makes them tick, and that is what readers come back for. They live for a piece of the mystery to be revealed. What makes Kaz Brekker such a tragically devilish person? Who is Inej beyond being the Wraith of the Barrel?
It’s hidden away in the details. A small thought. A tiny action. An observation they’ve made. A little flirting to keep you coming back for the next piece.