If I had to sum up my feelings about this book in a single sentence, I would say this book is passable. I read a lot of fantasy and there was nothing about INTO THE CROOKED PLACE that really made it stand out to me, as it follows the typical formula of many best-selling YA titles coming out these days, to the point that over-saturation has rendered them virtually indistinguishable from one another. INTO THE CROOKED PLACE is not a bad book, nor is it an exceptionally good one. It's an okay YA fantasy with decent writing and some interesting but two-dimensional characters.
The setting of this book is in a fantasy city called Creije where magic is forbidden (whoomp, there it is). At night, black market traders sell charms and potions to people looking for a little extra, where they split the profits with their crime boss masters. Tavia is one of these, and her boss, Wesley, used to be her childhood friend until he was corrupted by power and became just as evil as everyone else. When he sends her off with a new potion, she doesn't think much of it, until her friend, Saxony, stupidly drinks it, and ends up becoming slightly, well, not herself.
As the truth of the new magic sinks in, Tavia realizes that Creije and its crime system is even worse than she thought. Especially since the Kingpin, Ashwood, is looking to expand his reach and, you guessed it, take over the world. She, Wesley, Saxony, and Karam, Wesley's bodyguard, must band together and join their pooled forces in order to save Creije from falling into darkness under a reign of dark magic and terror. But in order to do that, they'll have to confront the darker shadows haunting each of their pasts-- and some of the secrets that they're hiding might well be deadly.
As I said, the characters were fine. I felt like they checked a lot of boxes, to be honest. Wesley and Tavia are the childhood friends who still care about each other but pretend not to. Wesley is the smooth-talking dapper criminal who seems to have been created with the intention of fan service. Karam and Saxony were an F/F couple who broke up but still have feelings for each other, which is refreshing to see, but their sexual tension-fueled constant bickering started to get a little old, after a while. You could pick up this cast and drop them into virtually any other fantasy novel that came out within the past five years, and whether it's SIX OF CROWS or THE GILDED WOLVES, they could still fill out virtually the same roles, in a virtually similar storyline, without much change to the plot.
I also feel like it's hard to suss out the target audience for this book. The cover and writing style feel like this is geared towards younger teens/older middle grade, but the writing itself is peppered with swear words and the characters appear to be older teens. I don't know if it's gritty enough for older teens to really enjoy, but the subject matter might be too dark for younger kids.
To this book's credit, I liked it a lot more than SIX OF CROWS (which I have tried to read and ended up dropping in irritation 3+ times) and THE GILDED WOLVES (which I managed to finish but gave a terrible review). I even liked this more than the author's previous effort, TO KILL A KINGDOM, and it seems like the author really looked at the feedback readers gave her for her previous book and tried to implement it in this book, to mostly great effect. The characters were likable, even if they lacked the depth I'd like to see in books like this, and the magic system was interesting. There were also some truly chilling scenes in here, and moments of some really descriptive writing.
I suppose if you enjoy YA fantasy, and especially the titles I mentioned in the previous paragraph, you'll probably really enjoy INTO THE CROOKED PLACE. It wasn't quite my cup of tea but it passed the time and managed to keep me invested where similar books did not. I might be reading the sequel, as this book ends on a cliffhanger, and I'm curious to see how everyone ends up.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3 out of 5 stars