Notable 2016 Middle Grade and YA Fantasy Novels in Stroud’s “The Creeping Shadow” and Bardugo’s “Crooked Kingdom”

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Myra here.

A year ago, I remember falling deeply in love with Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series that I devoured all three books December of last year. This came as no surprise to me since I also adore Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy (which apparently has two additional books – time for me to re-read the books then). I also paired my review of Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase with Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows in my review.

It is in that spirit that I pair these two 2016 fantasy novels yet again for our current reading theme on dragons, mermaids, vampires – or simply all things fantastical.


fullsizerender-3The Creeping Shadow: Lockwood & Co Book 4

Writer: Jonathan Stroud
Published by: Corgi Books, 2016. ISBN: 0552573159 (ISBN13: 9780552573153)
Bought personal copy of the book.

As per usual, Stroud managed to come up with another instalment in this series that is engaging and filled with laugh-out-loud moments. I think what makes him effective is how he is funny without even trying – the way the new characters are described: the description of Lucy’s new team as a freelancer – yes, she really did leave Lockwood and Company – was done in Stroud’s trademark sardonic humour, making them truly come alive in the narrative.

In The Creeping Shadow, Kipps takes on an even greater role, as well as the leering skull with the grudgingly-spot-on advice (told in the nick of time, of course). Lucy, by the way, lost the skull which required her to seek out the help of Lockwood. What makes things interesting is that Lockwood also required the help of Lucy given her unparalleled listening powers for a case that was given to them. So things become a trifle confused as to whether Lucy is a free-lance consultant for Lockwood and Company, or is she a client, a hanger-on or whatnot. This complexity is naturally untangled with a great deal of firepower and burning down of buildings, a trip to the other side (reminiscent really of parallel universes ala Stranger Things – that marks off the land of the dead as opposed to the living), and a significant degree of cover-up from the powers that be. There are are also hints now of who the Skull used to be when he was alive (which makes things a tad more exciting). Add the fact that there are multiple eerie cases that are ongoing, scary ghosts, and a conspiracy that runs deep and seems to connect quite a number of pieces together.

I have also been particularly intrigued by Penelope Fittes. I never really trusted her – and this series shows that there is something else much bigger that is at play here: the nature of the Problem and the ghosts and whether the latter can even be controlled (and the many experiments that allow this to happen). Stroud does have a way of hooking his reader in. I look forward to the next book(s) in the series.

Crooked Kingdomfullsizerender-8

WriterLeigh Bardugo
Published by: Henry Holt and Company, 2016 ISBN: 1627792139 (ISBN13: 9781627792134)
Review copy provided by Pansing Books.

I have to say that slipping into Grishaverse is the exact comfort read that I need given what’s going on in our world. There is something to be said about an escape into fantasy that provides time out from the ‘real world’ and ‘adulthood’ – whatever those terms imply. It pains me though that this is only a duology, instead of a trilogy. Much as I would like another story set in my beloved Grishaverse, there seems to be a resounding finality to this story that would make any other additional instalment seem forced, contrived, or simply created for commercial purposes – rather than an intention to come up with something real.

It is this ‘realness’ that captured me in all of Bardugo’s writing. All of the characters in this story are flawed (see my review of Six of Crows here). Yet, it is precisely that flaw or vulnerability which draws the reader to Kaz or to Inej. Truth be told, I find it difficult to choose a favourite character as each one of them have their own peculiarities that I enjoy: from Nina’s hunger for just one more dose of the parem and her wench-like nature that I can definitely relate to, the Neanderthal-like Matthias with the black-and-white Viking values that continue to be shaken by his love for Nina. Then there are Jesper and Wylan who have their own little fleshed-out stories that leave the reader wanting for more. The fact that there are multiple POVs used in the narrative also seemed ingenious, and shows Bardugo’s craftsmanship, as each of the main characters are imbued with their own distinct voice and reality.

An interesting twist here was the infusion of some of the original Grisha characters into the story – I won’t say who, but suffice it to say that one of my favourites managed a cameo here which thrilled me to no end. Then there is Dunyasha – Inej’s match: a fierce and trained fighter, a learned assassin – with some delusions of grandeur. I took a photo of a page here and edited using an iPhone app.

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It is this spirit which permeates the entire story – the grabbing life by the throat because Kaz’s Six of Crows or should I say, Crooked Kingdom, has nothing left to lose, really. I also found myself writing down quite a number of quotes from Bardugo’s writing – there is something in the way she writes that simply speaks to me.

Here’s to wringing “magic from the ordinary” and finding our own light amidst darkness.

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