Crooked Kingdom picks up shortly after the first book, starting with another scene with Retvenko. Honestly, having not read the rest of the Grishaverse books (I assume he's important in one of them?), I found his inclusion in these books irrelevant and distracting. It was only one chapter, so I guess I shouldn't complain, but I think he could have been removed and just let the contextual clues do the talking.
We pick back up with Kaz and his crew (and all of the romantic entanglements that began in the first book) as they attempt to bring down Wylan's father and claim the reward they were promised. Jan VanEck really shows his despicable colors in this one and made for a fantastically hate-able villain. Ketterdam came alive for me in this book, and I loved Inej's chapters the most. Getting to see and feel the city from her perspective, racing along familiar rooftops and leaping through shadows, was a lot of fun. Her fight with Dunyasha was one of the best parts of the entire duology, and you can read my favorite few lines from it at the top of this review. Jesper and Wylan are always good for a bit of flirty banter or a laugh. This sequel fleshed out a lot of their characters, adding depth and history to both. Kaz's genius really shone in these pages and the final scheme was well laid-out and full of 'aha!' moments.
Kaz's relationship with Inej is one of the strongest and most unique things about these books. Kaz is a bitter, broken, merciless young man who is a protagonist I loved to hate. An anti-hero. Inej has plenty of her own shadows, clinging to her faith while compromising her morals to survive. They are both capable, courageous, fiercely loyal, and ruthless when the situation calls for it. But Kaz's past makes him unreachable. Despite her feelings for him, Inej has enough self-worth to walk away rather than waste her life trying to fix him. This is a rare jewel of a female character that puts herself and her goals above all else, and was incredibly empowering to read.
(SPOILERS FOLLOW, BEWARE!)
But guys, I gotta talk about Nina and Matthias. I love a good enemies-to-lovers trope and was drawn to their relationship the most in the first book. There was a lot of potential there, and even though the backstory was a bit thin I still really enjoyed it. Crooked Kingdom gave me those sweet little new-romance moments that I craved (along with the same for the other two main matches) and I had such hopes. But then Leigh had to tear out my heart and spit on it and shove it into a blender. I didn't so much mind that Matthias died. It was...unnecessary, yes. But I'm not one to shrink from killing off a few beloved characters. The way he died would even have been acceptable to me if Nina had been believably effected by it. Instead, I closed this book disliking her quite a lot. Her grief was so utterly unconvincing. When Kaz suggested the money didn't matter in the face of her loss, she immediately cut him off and insisted it mattered. While she was never my favorite character to begin with, she went out looking like a cold-hearted, shallow, money-grubbing cliche. I get that she was a soldier and saw plenty of death in her time fighting for Ravka, but for fuck's sake, it's the man you love! (Or not?) Her story apparently continues in King of Scars, so I hope to see her redeemed there.
In the end, I felt like Matthias was killed off just to have a major character die and check some box for the publisher. That being said, I had a great time reading these books and will gladly recommend them to others.