Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars
Perhaps one of the most hyped up books in YA literature, part of me was worried to open the pages of this book and have the possibility of becoming disappointed that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations and fall flat. I can say with all honesty that this book not only lives up to the hype, it immensely surpasses it! Leigh Bardugo has created a masterful, epic story that felt like a mix of Ocean’s Eleven, Peaky Blinders, and Harry Potter all mixed into one; It’s got a dangerous heist set in a victorian era world with magical beings!
What It’s About:
The story first takes place in the fictional city of Ketterdam, a coastal trade post filled with greed, corruption, and mob violence. Organized crime is the lay of the land, and amongst the worst criminals the city has to offer, a young Kaz Brekker is given the opportunity for the biggest heist in recorded history to make him wealthier beyond his wildest dreams.
Someone has created a drug named Jurda Parem that enhances Grisha powers tremendously to the point of a deadly addiction (similar aesthetic to an addiction to meth), and the creator of it has been captured and taken prisoner in the impenetrable ice fortress in the northern land of Fjerda.
No one has ever escaped from the Ice Court, so Kaz recruits several others to aid him in this seemingly impossible task:
Matthias Helvar: A Fjerdan Drüskelle (soldier) turned prisoner that burns with revenge on the woman that betrayed him.
Nina Zenik: A Heartrender Grisha who uses her magic to help herself survive the brutal streets of Ketterdam.
Jesper Fahey: One of Kaz’s men, a sharpshooter who can’t say no to any sort of gamble.
Wylan Van Eck: a runaway mechanic with a privelaged past.
Inej Ghafa: Another one of Kaz’s spies, a deadly assassin known simply as The Wraith.
A bunch of rejects, criminals, and thieves; they all must begrudgingly work together in order to rescue the prisoner, escape the Ice Court, and get their reward. Breaking in is one thing, but Kaz quickly learns that one of his biggest rivals is also after the same prize, and that their mission might be a guaranteed failure with all the secrets that are being kept amongst even his most trusted…
Before going into what I liked and disliked, I thought I’d give a short, brief summary of the Grisha. They are an integral part of the author’s world and the stories that she’s created, so below is a short lesson of who they are:
The world has magical beings called “Grisha,” who have the abilities to practice magical powers. There are three classifications: Corporalki, Etheralki, and Materialki.
- Corporalki are known as The Order of the Living and the Dead, and have sub categories of Grisha that are Healers, Heartrenders, and Tailors. Healers are self explanatory, but Heartrenders are those that can damage internal organs like slowing the heart’s pulse or taking air from lungs. Tailors are those that can change appearances of themselves and/or others.
- Etherealki are known as The Order of Summoners, and have sub categories of Squallors, Inferni, and Tidemakers. Squallors can manipulate the wind, Inferni can manipulate fire, and Tidemakers can manipulate water. There are have been especially rare cases of Shadow Summoners and Sun summoners, those that can manipulate light and darkness.
- Materialki are known as The Order of Fabrikators, and have sub categories of Durasts, and Alkemi. Durasts can manipulate glass, steel, wood, plants, stone, or anything that is solid on a molecular level. Alkemi specialize in chemicals that aid in the production of powders, explosives and poisons.
What I Liked:
- The Plotting/ World Building! The author has truly created a masterpiece with this story; it’s obvious that the author meticulously planned it all out to keep it as tight as possible, not a single word or moment out of place. Ketterdam is an incredibly interesting place for the story to begin; I personally imagined the city looked like either Amsterdam in the Netherlands or Prague in the Czech Republic, while the Ice Court in Fjerda looks more like Siberia, Russia.
- It’s Able to be Read as Standalone! Leigh Bardugo has other works that takes place before the events in this story with her Shadow and Bone trilogy. While to me, the trilogy probably gives better background information on the Grisha specifically, you can start Six of Crows without having read them prior. There might be small tidbits of information or references that may go over some reader’s heads, but nothing significantly stood out that would ruin the book for anyone. The amount of information given about the magical beings of this world that is given is just enough for the reader to have a basic understanding of it all.
- The Morally Grey Characters & Their Development! This aspect is absolutely nailed to perfection as literally every main character grows, have unique personalities, purposes, and goals. Through the book, along with several flashback scenes, you learn more and more about them, and can enjoy how truly fleshed out they become. Inej is an assassin, a thief, but has been through hell and back and wants to ultimately do the right thing, and liberate slaves like herself. She has a hard heart, but she’s willing to open it up to those she truly cares about. Jesper is witty, sarcastic, but knows how blessed his life is from growing up on a farm. He recognizes his personal flaws and tries to fix them. Nina is a delight; she goes from a flirt to a badass force in less than 10 seconds. She is confident in her fuller figure, and is not ashamed of her love for waffles. Matthias, though perhaps the hardest to feel sympathy for, is a man constantly torn between what he’s always known and been trained to believe vs. the world that he sees and learns through his own eyes. Wylan is a shy, goody two shoes type who came from a sheltered background, and while he doesn’t get as much attention in this book, he has many different depths that readers learn in the book’s sequel, Crooked Kingdom. Kaz is a manipulative, twisted, morally black character; he’s the perfect anti-hero. He doesn’t want to rescue the scientist to be a hero or save the world, he just wants his money, and doesn’t care who he has to stomp his expensive shoes with in order to get what he wants.
- The Banter/Group Dynamics! Each of the characters has a special relationship amongst the others in their small crew, whether it be through owed debts, bitter enemies, employee-employer; they all form reluctant alliances amongst each other in order to obtain the prize that they are all promised.
- The Slow-Burn Multiple Romances! Yes, there is romance, but Bardugo does it in such a way that it never overtakes or detracts from the overall story; it’s never forced or randomly placed. It so subtle and below the radar that it’s almost unexpected until it drives you crazy and makes you want to toss the book across the room with the need to yell “Just kiss already!” Each romantic subplot is unique in itself as well, and are there for entirely different purposes, which is a relief as well, they don’t feel repetitive or too similar.
- The Diversity Of The Cast Of Characters! Six of Crows may have one of the most diverse casts of characters that any reader could obtain. Its not just diverse in terms of race, but also sexuality, badass females, and also in terms of disabilities. Kaz is physically disabled with a limp in his right leg and has Haphephobia, the fear of being touched or touching others. Nina is a proud fat girl who also happens to be considered the most attractive member of the group, and there’s even a dyslexic character, which is extremely rare in Fantasy, YA or Adult. It’s portrayed as a way for the character to not be embarrassed and that it doesn’t make them less of a person, so why not add another?…one character even has ADD.
- The Real World Undertones! The author deals with real world issues like racism, religion, sexism, LGBTQ rights, and plenty of others. She successfully manages to turn them into something amongst the characters in her work and has it represented in a different way, but the message remains the same.
What I Didn’t Like:
- The Beginning Chapters…Honestly, I can’t say much that I dislike about this story, but one thing worth mentioning is that the first few chapters throw readers right into the world and takes off immediately. It’s pretty much like a sink-or-swim type of feeling, and makes it hard to gain footing for new readers, especially for those like me, who come in not having read the Grisha Trilogy beforehand.
- Too Many Flashbacks?…I’m someone who becomes impatient when it comes to the stories I dive into, and I do tend to get frustrated when something makes me have to slow down or gets in my way (i.e: real world adulting, work, housework, etc.) its also why I’m not a big fan of musicals…after two songs I’m like “get on with it already!” The flashbacks do provide vital information that gives us new depths to the characters and why they are the way they are, but for me, after awhile I just wanted to see what happened next in present time. This was just a personal annoyance I found, but they didn’t detract from the story in any way. In fact, they only made it more complex and interesting.
Overall, Six of Crows is a masterpiece of Fantasy Fiction filled with a rich & complex world, a cast of the most diverse group of characters anyone will ever read, and a more original plot than a lot of other works. They aren’t a Justice League of heroes out to save the world, they’re all crooked criminals who want a reward by accomplishing the most impossible heist that anyone could ever imagine!
Thanks for Reading!
— Nick Goodsell