Six of Crows
A clever and dark YA fantasy—featuring a well-rounded cast paired to a heist plot that tugs at the mind as well as the heart.
Disclaimer: No actual crows were harmed in the telling of this story. >.>
This was my first experience with any of Leigh Bardugo’s work. (And if this one is any indication of overall quality, it won’t be my last.) Despite it being set in a previously-established world with powers-based fantasy element, this book—and series—stands completely on its own. No need to have read about the Grisha before encountering them, as you will quickly and clearly get the idea as you go along. Their inborn powers are central to the plot, as the creation of an amplifying drug is evidently turning them into superweapons and controllable addicts.
Those who control the amped-up Grisha will, pretty obviously, control the world. But that little issue is only readily relevant to a few of the thieves who are collected in the name of rescuing/abducing the drug’s creator…
Initially, none of the characters we meet come off as particularly sympathetic (with the exception of the exotic and deadly Inej, who desires to find some trace of redemption in her tactically brilliant boss.) I found for the first 1/4th of the book I was reading just to figure out what was going on and why. But patience gradually pays off, and bits of their unique backstories are meted out in unobtrusive morsels as the larger story progresses. Every one of the six are flawed—some more horrendously than others. But all of them, even “dirtyhands” Kaz, have their soft spots, and their reasons for being the way they are. By the end I found myself genuinely endeared to most of them, and largely pleased with their growth.
The pacing is clipped, the worldbuilding solid, and the descriptions are nigh-cinematic. Rotating POVs lend to selective reveals and interesting twists. I was a little annoyed there seemed to be an intention of conveniently pairing off all members of the crew in a romantic sense, and I’m not a huge fan of the cliffhanger ending that made this ultimately feel like a super-sized half book… But my reservations are relatively minimal when contrasted with my overall enjoyment.
If you like to find yourself rooting for the “bad guys” (who are really more like chaotic good with a dash of chaotic neutral), this may be just the book for you.
Kaz leaned back. "What's the easiest way to steal a man's wallet?"
"Knife to the throat?" asked Inej.
"Gun to the back?" said Jesper.
"Poison in his cup?" suggested Nina.
"You're all horrible," said Matthias.
“The easiest way to steal a man’s wallet is to tell him you’re going to steal his watch. You take his attention and direct it where you want it to go."
We slowly get to know these characters and learn about their history, reinforcing how much is at stake for each individual should something go wrong, leaving you completely compelled and feeling apart of the journey. If you’re familiar with the Grisha world then this book is a dream, it can be read as a standalone but you may have a few questions here and there but being able to slip seamlessly back into the amazing world and Bardugo’s writing which has become more captivating over the years was fantastic.
The plot is fast paced, action packed and unpredictable; you will not see much coming and the plot twists are exceptional. Now for the romance, there’s romance and 2 ships that I am majorly shipping and in love with. It does not consume or take away from the plot, just bits here and there but it’s enough to keep you hooked and still fly through the pages. BUT when you reach those chapters or scenes where there is romance… be prepared for some smoldering looks, angst, sexual tension and quotes that have the ability to make you swoon long after reading.
Overall I’d make some room on your top bookshelves if I were you, Six of Crows is going to claim top spot and make all other books come second place. Bardugo’s magical world and superlative writing will leave you wanting more; that is if you survived the cliffhanger…
If there were more stars to give, I would give them all!
About the Story:
"A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist."
Redemption comes at a cost.
This story is told from many different point of view, of which the main protagonists are Kaz, criminal mastermind and Inej, the silent spy. We first meet the six main characters as they prepare for the heist of their life; riches, independence, and salvation at their fingertips. Each character has their own reasons for agreeing - as Kaz pulls their strings - but we slowly learn that the cause of this mission is bigger than any one of them. With plot-twists from cover-to-cover, Leigh Bardugo has incorporated action, suspence, and romance in the Six of Crows.
Kaz, Inej, Nina, Jesper, Matthias, and Wylan were the main six protagonists. This story switched point of view frequently, akin to the Game of Thrones. However, I did find myself lacking a connection to Jesper and Wylan. Though Wylan was integral in the latter story, I wonder if the story could have been the same for me without these two characters.
Kaz is a man of cold mystery - always a big draw. Deep down we wonder - as Inej does - whether we can change Kaz, heal him, or get him to admit he cares. Inej is a beautiful character - so fun to read as she leaps from roof-to-roof, fulfilling her reputation as the Wraith.
I grew to be quite fond of Nina, and Matthias by default.
Each character had their own sordid past, their own motivations and ambitions, yet they each shared something vital; each had run from something, or someone. The group dialogue was highly entertaining.
Intricate and well-crafted. We get a clear sense of the Barrel, of the disparities between rich and poor, of the prison, and the crossing to the Ice Court. The setting is this novel's strength. Particularly in the beginning, the world-building holds the reader’s attention. I had few qualms in this area, though a glossary could have been a nice as there were many unfamiliar terms - this novel would not be kind to someone who only reads a chapter a night.
By halfway through, I began to feel emotionally invested in this story. Most fantasy novels take a little to set up the world - especially one as intricate as this - before picking up pace. Despite this, the start was slow and I had to force myself to continue in parts. The writing is professional with few errors, and technically sound, but I wonder if the editing of some of the initial scenes could have improved pacing. From the mid-mark, I only put Six of Crows down once, to sleep - always gets in the way - and was satisfied with the ending, and what should prove to be a good sequel. Kaz and Inej are still ingrained in my mind after closing the covers.
A unique world, largely lovable characters, and a detailed, unpredictable plot. If you plan to read Six of Crows, you can be assured of a YA novel unlike any other. For me, the pace dragged initially, and there were some characters I felt little for, but it was worth continuing for the final showdown.
“What is he doing?” asked Matthias.
“Performing an ancient Zemeni ritual,” Kaz said.
The novel is set in the same universe as Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, but in Kerch as opposed to my beloved Ravka. Ketterdam, the capital city, is a bustling trade hub for merchants and criminals. The city is comprised of a dozen or so rival gangs, who each fight for control of the docks to regulate the legitimate and illegal products being traded daily. Kaz, the lieutenant of the Dregs, is given a once in a lifetime opportunity to make himself and his crew rich beyond their dreams.
The mission: to break into the indomitable Ice Court. The objective: to rescue a highly valued and sought after prisoner. The plan: … well, they’re making it up as they go along.
The plot screamed Bardugo and I was quickly swept up in the antics and the twists and turns. Heist stories are notoriously difficult to pull off, as they all follow a similar clichés and storylines: a group of misfits must band together to pull off an impossible heist, get over their differences and eventually become like a family; the plan derails and they are forced to come up with another way to complete the mission. Even with Six of Crows following the formulaic heist clichés, Bardugo still managed to surprise me and completely pull the wool out from under my eyes. There were times I laughed, times I cried and many, many times I was left gasping and tempted to throw the book against the wall. Bardugo seamlessly creates and sustains tension from beginning to end. There was not one moment that I felt safe, even during the comedic scenes.
Notwithstanding the heist story, Six of Crows is really about the lives of six different people coming together, learning to work together and loving each other. That’s what I loved about this novel – the characterisation was superb and just goes to show how amazing Bardugo is at creating rich, complex and realistic characters. If you want diversity and LGBTQ representation immersed with fantasy elements, look no further than Six of Crows.
By far my favourite character was Kaz. Honestly, I don’t think there’s not one bad boy that woman writes that I do not fall in love with. The story of Kaz’s childhood was heart-wrenching to read and explains perfectly why he is the way that he is. Kaz is definitely not a hero – if anything, he is an antihero and for that I love him even more. I am loving the sudden rise in YA literature of anti-heroic, even villainous protagonists. They are so much more fascinating to read then a typical ‘good guy’ character. And Kaz is the epitome of an antihero. My favourite scene was definitely were Kaz tortures a member of a rival gang after he injured Inej. Kaz stabs him in the eye, pulls his eye out and then throws him overboard to drown in the ocean. Savage.
What annoys me most in novels is when the author is describing a certain characteristic of a character … but that characteristic is never explored. For e.g.: say we are told a character is a mathematical genius, but we are never shown them being a mathematical genius. This happens quite a lot in fiction, and I am so happy Bardugo did not fall into this trap of telling instead of showing. Kaz, we are told time and time again, is a brutal criminal mastermind who was so ruthless he was given the nickname ‘Dirtyhands.’ It would have been pretty underwhelming if we were never shown Kaz living up to his epithets. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.
My second favourite character was Nina, a lost Heartrender from the Second Army. I loved her personality, her fierceness and her strength. She was funny, witty and incredibly brave, especially at the conclusion of the novel. I was so captivated by her relationship with Matthias and loved the slow-burn/tension they had to go through. Their history was so interesting: I mean, a witch-hunter and a Grisha? Taboo romance? Hell yeah! Nina is just one of the many characters you will fall head of heels in love with.
Don’t let the differing perspectives put you off, either. Each character has a history, a life; a story to tell – no character is pushed to the side or forgotten. In just 400 pages, Bardugo is able to pull off what many authors and even film-makers are unable to: ensure that all of the characters are actively included in the text and have equal ‘screen’ time. I mean, just look at the failure that was Suicide Squad (at least for me). Too many characters which resulted in not enough time for them to be fully developed, so they immediately had to kill one of them off! Never a good idea to do that.
The fantasy element was just as amazing as the Grisha trilogy. That being said, it might be a little confusing to readers with no prior knowledge of the Grishaverse. While you certainly can read Six of Crows without having read the Grisha series, it would probably be a detriment to you as I noticed that Bardugo didn’t fully explain the Grisha phrases as well as she did in the original series. I think she based her world-building on her readers having already read Grisha series; so for those readers who read Six of Crows and not the originals, it might be to your benefit to immerse yourself in the epicness that is Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. It will definitely help in your understanding of the text.
Overall, I was very satisfied with Six of Crows and thought it was a great series starter. The characters were wonderfully realistic, the plot was well-thought out and the writing really made everything come together to create a seamless ride. I do have to mention that the hype for this book did slightly effect my reading experience. Because Six of Crows came out a year ago, I’ve had many friends pestering me to read the novel and gushing over how much I would love it. And I did, don’t get me wrong, I certainly loved Six of Crows. But this gushing gave me ridiculously high expectations, especially when so many people stated they preferred this one book to the entire Grisha trilogy. I just didn’t feel that. While it was an amazing novel, to suggest it was better than an entire series was a little much, and resulted in those high expectations of mine not being met. I think I went into Six of Crows expecting an amazing book, rather than discovering it was amazing like so many others. I will definitely not be making that mistake the next time. Crooked Kingdom, the second in the new series, is slated for release September 27. The book has already been preordered to ensure I read it immediately so as not to allow anyone else’s opinions affect my own.