by Alexandra Christo
**I was provided copies of both books through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed them. All opinions are my own.**
Into the Crooked Place
Publication: October 8, 2019
Into the Crooked Place (2019) invites readers into a gritty underworld through the eyes of four individuals: Wes the underboss of Creije with eyes and ears everywhere; Tavia the busker with a moral code; freedom fighter Saxony who is hiding among crooks; and warrior Karam who serves as Wes’s bodyguard. Christo has crafted a bleak world where the only thing you can trust is that the people around you are more than willing to betray you. The authorities, with few exceptions, are just as untrustworthy as the crooks they are meant to police. When Wes enlists Tavia, Saxony, and Karam, to help protect the city he loves, it’s unclear whether they can truly trust one another.
The book switches between the four main characters, interspersed with chapters told from the point of view of a few minor characters. Through their chapters, we learn about their motivations, their regrets, and their plans. We also get to see the lies they tell each other. With the book switching between the four, I didn’t feel connected to any of them, although I did gravitate toward Tavia as my favorite character. While I enjoyed the first book in the duology, it’s very much an introduction from the characters to the world, so it’s not as exciting as it could be. It’s easy to see the book is building to something possibly bigger that can’t be contained in a single volume. The ending makes up for a somewhat slow start.
City of Spells
Publication: March 9, 2021
City of Spells (2021) is the exciting conclusion to the duology. The loss of Wes is more detrimental than expected. Tavia was said to have been the glue, but Wes was the mastermind. While Wes is left to fend for himself, Tavia, Karam, and Saxony are forced to look for allies to help bring down the Kingpin.
Because the first book already introduced the world and our characters, City of Spells doesn’t require as much time setting up what will happen here. They have to find allies and take down the Kingpin. Although Tavia and Karam maintain their status as main characters, I couldn’t help but feel they were, in many ways, relegated to the background in favor of Wes and Saxony. Karam doesn’t get to do as much except try to maintain peace between Saxony and Tavia. I wish there had been more chapters for Tavia but she doesn’t have as much to do here either so those things feed into each other. Of course, that could just be me being partial to her and wanting more pages allotted to her.
Despite a fairly straight-forward plot, there are enough twists and revelations in the book to ensure readers forge ahead; I couldn’t put it down once I got through the beginning. I can’t help but praise Christo for the ending of City of Spells: it was so good, maybe even better than the one for Into the Crooked Place.
Overall, the duology is a good read with edge of your seat action as each book heads toward their individual conclusions. There is enough world building to make Creije come alive. With a focus on the underbelly of the city, it’s difficult to fully realize the entire Creije society, its governing system, and the rest of the realms. There were times when a sense of place was missing for me. Even though both books have points where the story slows down or drags just a bit, Christo makes up for it with explosive endings–she excels at them. I was impressed with the endings for both books. Also, I don’t really talk about it for fear it might be spoilery but there is also romance and yes, I liked it. It’s only a small part of both books and doesn’t distract from main story.