Meet the new faces of YA gangster fantasy in Alexandra Christo’s INTO THE CROOKED PLACE!
A young busker responsible for selling the world’s most dangerous magic. Her former best friend and current underboss who is ready to expand his criminal enterprise at any cost. His vicious, kickass bodyguard from another land with a warrior heart and a dark past. Her busker ex-girlfriend with a massive secret of her own. Tavia, Wesley, Karam, and Saxony are turning Creije’s criminal underworld on its head to take down the gangster that shaped their wretched lives, Dante Ashwood. But Ashwood has all the power and a strange magic of his own. The four main characters and their allies will have to risk everything to take him down.
I picked up Into The Crooked Place because I was surprisingly thrilled with Alexandra Christo’s debut novel, To Kill A Kingdom, which could have easily been a wishy-washy The Little Mermaid retelling but morphed into a fantastic, original sea voyage with teeth. Unfortunately, I think Into The Crooked Place was a little less successful in maneuvering away from its easy comparisons. It’s one of the few novels with a “Six of Crows meets X” pitch that actually feels a bit like Six Of Crows, but given the less intricate plot and the lack of true twists, that doesn’t necessarily work in its favor.
But first, let’s dive into what I liked: Christo writes some strong and varied characters, each with an in-depth backstory that plays into the plot. I liked each of the characters individually and appreciated what they added to the story. The tension between Wesley and Tavia as well as Karam and Saxony (that’s right, LGBTQ rep!) was indulgent, but in very different ways that kept the romantic tension fresh. The story took caution not to center itself around the romances, which I really appreciate. Also, the paths the storytelling took were more creative and fantastical than most of the YA “gangster fantasy” out there, which really kept me on my toes.
While Into The Crooked Place is a pretty good read, I struggled with the pacing on the whole. It felt like the novel fell into the takedown of the gangster boss very quickly, before the characters were thoroughly introduced and the readers really understood why the characters all hated him (other than him being generally villainous.) The story revolves around a magic sickness, which is super interesting but not explained very well. The action scenes came in bursts with long lulls in between. Overall, it made the reading experience choppy.
That said, the story really pulls together in its final sequence. There are dramatic “reveals” that probably won’t be much of a reveal for any discerning reader, but the action is on point and there are new elements introduced that leave breadcrumbs for a sequel– This is the first book in a duology, after all.
Enjoyable as it is, Into The Crooked Place is competing a well-versed sub-genre at the moment. It’s an easy read, but you’re probably not going to get the same thrills you’d expect from a gangster-inspired YA fantasy world.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS
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.