“A gambler, a convict, a wayward son, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who had become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.”
This year I have fully immersed myself in the creative world of Leigh Bardugo. I binge-read her Grisha trilogy in a week and couldn’t wait to delve into her newest series featuring a rag-tag team of thieves and delinquents led by a criminal prodigy. The book has six main characters and follows the perspective of five of those characters, while weaving fascinating flashbacks and mixed in with incredible world-building and twists that you will never see coming.
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.
“We are all someone’s monster.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“‘Our hopes rest with you, Mister Brekker. If you fail, all the world will suffer for it.’
‘Oh, it’s worse than that, Van Eck. If I fail, I don’t get paid.'”
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.
“‘I’m a business man,’ he’d told her. ‘No more, no less.’
‘You’re a thief, Kaz.’
‘Isn’t that what I just said?'”
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.
“No mourners. No funerals.”
Buy the book here.