Title: Into The Crooked Place
Author: Alexandra Christo
Genre: YA Fantasy
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Allen & Unwin Australia on October 1st, 2019
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)
Blurb from Goodreads:
Into the Crooked Place begins a gritty two-book YA fantasy series from Alexandra Christo, the author of To Kill a Kingdom.
The streets of Creije are for the deadly and the dreamers, and four crooks in particular know just how much magic they need up their sleeve to survive.
Tavia, a busker ready to pack up her dark-magic wares and turn her back on Creije for good. She’ll do anything to put her crimes behind her.
Wesley, the closest thing Creije has to a gangster. After growing up on streets hungry enough to swallow the weak whole, he won’t stop until he has brought the entire realm to kneel before him.
Karam, a warrior who spends her days watching over the city’s worst criminals and her nights in the fighting rings, making a deadly name for herself.
And Saxony, a resistance fighter hiding from the very people who destroyed her family, and willing to do whatever it takes to get her revenge.
Everything in their lives is going to plan, until Tavia makes a crucial mistake: she delivers a vial of dark magic—a weapon she didn’t know she had—to someone she cares about, sparking the greatest conflict in decades. Now these four magical outsiders must come together to save their home and the world, before it’s too late. But with enemies at all sides, they can trust nobody. Least of all each other.
A deliciously darker take on YA fantasy? Don’t mind if I do! The central premise of this book is that the best people to save the realms from moral peril is…a bunch of criminals. I’m used to the common trope of heroes on a quest to save the kingdom, but substituting a bickering group of crooks in their place creates a refreshing and entertaining new dynamic!
“I will not be part of a suicide mission,” Karam said.
“Would it be easier if I didn’t give you a choice?” Wesley asked. “I could force you, but I think it would be easier to just pay you instead. Double your usual rate should do it.”
“I was not aware I had a usual rate for getting myself klled,” Karam said. “Or for saving the realms.”
Wesley nearly recoiled. “We’re saving a place I have great stakes in. Don’t make out like I’m a good guy. It’s disheartening.”
“Nobody is going to mistake you for a good guy in that suit,” Tavia said. “You look like a gangster threw up on you.”
Wesley looked indifferent. “But a very high-end gangster.”
I’ll try not to quote too much from the ARC as it’s subject to change before publication, but I was honestly snickering the whole way through at the banter between our protagonists. The storyline itself can be quite bleak and grim at points, but the frequent snarky quips lighten the mood before it can become too oppressive.
It’s very tricky work to develop four main characters as well as their relationships with each other, and the author carried it off skillfully as I felt the characters come to life right from the start, their personalities practically leaping from the page. Tavia is the linchpin around which the group forms – she sells magic in the bustling streets of Creije, working as a busker for Wesley, the ganglord who runs the city’s criminal underground. Karam is employed as his personal guard and Saxony is her ex-girlfriend as well as Tavia’s best friend.
I really love the tangled web of connections between each member of the group and how the relationships between various combination of characters is fleshed out. It’s not simply about the complicated feelings still lingering between Karam and Saxony or the romantic tension that Tavia and Wesley are willfully blind to between them; platonic relationships are equally important as Tavia and Saxony’s friendship is a key part of the story (it’s what kicks off the plot in the first place). Plus Karam’s loyalty to Wesley is an integral part of her, as he played a huge role in shaping her growth when she was new to the city and he gave her a chance on his staff.
In contrast, Saxony and Wesley have an antagonistic dynamic with the former hating everything the latter stands for and only reluctantly allying with him due to their mutual interest in taking down the villain threatening the safety of the realms. To a lesser degree, Tavia and Karam also have an adversarial relationship, but as they both care for Saxony, they begrudgingly tolerate or at least try not to kill each other!
“You’re going to regret trying to stop me.”
Karam tried to hold her temper. Saxony would be very angry if she killed her friend. “You cannot be threatening me,” Karam said. “So I will assume I knocked the sense out of you.”
There was a bruise already forming across Tavia’s cheek. She lifted her lips into a callous smile and said, “When I take you down, it’ll be the best night’s sleep you’ve had in ages. You might even thank me for it.”
See? They exercise a great deal of restraint when dealing with each other!
Each chapter is from the point of view of a different character (identified in the chapter heading) and while I’m normally a little wary of multiple POVs, I enjoyed the different perspectives presented here and how it allowed us to learn more about our protagonists. They all have selfish personal reasons for risking their lives to confront the villain and while they make some morally dubious or outright terrible choices, it’s hard not to sympathize when you find out their backstories and what led them to become the people they are in the present day. I quickly became fond of all four main characters (especially Wesley, even if he is a cold-blooded murderer!) and rooted for them to succeed.
The plot is a roller-coaster ride, taking the reader across the realms at a reckless breathless pace and unafraid to turn the world upside down on the reader, throwing in bombshells willy-nilly. It’s impossible to be bored reading this book, there’s so much fast-paced action that you’ll be racing past the half-way mark before you know it! At some points, I wished the action would slow down for a bit so I could take in the scenery, but the author wasn’t letting up for tourist attractions, it was full speed ahead to the endgame!
“That was a warning shot,” the guard said.
“Yes.” Wesley nodded. “Thank you for explaining. Would you care to hear my warning?”
His gun was in his hand before Saxony had the time to take a breath. Wesley fired, jsut once, and a body fell down from the guard tower.
“I don’t give warnings,” Wesley said.
Into The Crooked Place features unique world-building as it mixes magic and technology together – before the War of Ages, there were Crafters who had the ability to wield magic that controlled elements such as lightning and fire or that could ensnare people’s minds and trick them with illusions. Now the Crafters are gone, but there is still remnants of their magic that is captured inside the charms Tavia sells, allowing ordinary people to use their power for a limited time. I found the distinction to be a bit confusing to begin with and I still don’t understand how one can create a magic charm that enables people to use magic if that person doesn’t have magic themselves. It’s also not clear to me how the technology operates in this world as they have trains and bullets, but I don’t see how this logically develops alongside magic. In the end, I told myself to switch off that critical mindset and just accept the story at face value, which helped me enjoy it a lot more, but some readers may be hoping for more solid world-building. As this is an ARC, there’s always the possibility that it will be clarified in the final print.
If you enjoy the prospect of a group of misfits teaming up for the greater good and alternatively trading witty quips or indulging in flirtatious banter, this is definitely the book for you. If you’re after a gritty action-adventure fantasy yarn, look no further! And for nuanced explorations of morality and whether violence is justified if it’s for the right cause as well as examining how one’s past traumas inform their future, you need to pick this up. With a main cast of lovable rogues, wickedly addictive plot and captivating writing, this belongs on your TBR. ❤
Read this and then come back and commiserate with me over that ghastly cliffhanger! Where is book 2??
Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.
Praise from other bloggers:
Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.