YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: The Shadows Between Us: by Tricia Levenseller

Publish Date: February 25th, 2020
Number of Pages: 326 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This is definitely a title to check out for those lovers of villains out there! There are many things to this 2020 release that makes it a story that many can enjoy:

  1. A female MC who doesn’t apologize for who she is.
  2. It’s a standalone
  3. Both the main LI’s are villains
  4. It’s been advertised as a Slytherin romance – which is actually almost a perfect way to describe it!
  5. The MC is incredibly complex in her ability to be both malicious and cunning, but kind and thoughtful all the same
  6. I suppose theres a “fake dating” trope
  7. A murder mystery
  8. A devilishly swoon-worthy male love interest
  9. it’s just overall fun!

Now I will be honest…this story wasn’t perfect—they hardly ever are—and this title didn’t necessarily live up to the expectations I’d given it. It had a few components I hadn’t expected to be included in the plot, and I won’t say they were bad, I’ll just say it wasn’t the direction I wanted it to go. It just felt like this book went the safe route after its initial set up, and I’d hoped it’d go down a much darker and twisted path. BUT…this title is still immensely enjoyable in the fact that as its a Slytherin romance, and it’s also a drawn out, slow-burn romance at that, and it still has quite a few enjoyable minor characters to add to the cast.

The cover you see above is the original cover design, but this boy decided to try out Fairyloot, a YA Fantasy subscription box stationed over in the UK, and while it didn’t straight out tell me this was the book I’d be receiving, a little research had made me 99% sure this was the book I’d receive. Below is the Fairyloot exclusive edition:

There’s not too big a difference based off just the initial glance at it besides the color choice of the background, but usually these subscription editions of books there’s more to it: there is exclusive artwork of the two main characters on the opposite side of the dust jacket, exclusive embossing on the hardcover, it’s signed by the author, and has a letter from her with a beautiful commission of the devious couple who star in this story, and that’s not even including all the other bookish items you get inside with your new book! What I’m trying to point out is, if you enjoy reading YA fantasy and enjoy receiving mail, I say check out their website and try it out!

What It’s About:

Allesandra Stathos is a young woman in a higher class noble family, but depending on who you ask, she’s very far from the lady that’s to be expected of her. Empowered to make men kneel at her feet, she’s not above taking a lover or two into the bedroom, and has even killed the very first boy with whom she’s given her heart to out of sheer revenge. Needless to say, she’s definitely not your average protagonist of the story.

In an effort to distance herself from her family and gain even more power, she devises a wicked plan: the woo the young Shadow King, manipulate him into falling for her and asking her to marry him, then to kill him and take the kingdom for herself. It’s a mystery surrounding him as to what his shadow capabilities can do exactly: are they controlling him? He can control them to do his bidding? Perhaps they insidiously whisper people’s secrets into his ear and warning him of who is actually his enemies. Either way, Allesandra has a plan, and she intends to go through with it.

Unfortunately for her, she’s not the only one with a similar plan, and she soon finds herself going out of her way to protect the Shadow King as invisible enemies also attempt to take his life. She’s not the only one who can come up with a villainous plan, but she also needs to watch out to not fall for the king herself in order to be seated on that throne by the end of it all…

What I Liked:

  1. Allesandra is the Main Character We Needed! She’s not the chosen one who’s to save the world, she’s not the long lost queen who’s come to reclaim what is rightfully hers, and thank effing god she’s not the shy, awkward girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty when she’s got, like, four different guys fighting for her affections…She’s unapologetically herself. I loved how she can go from planning out someone’s murder to gushing over a puppy in a single moment. She’s incredibly self-aware, ambitious, sexually confident, cunning, smart, conniving, and honestly acts the way I’m sure a lot of us wish we could on most days. Who wouldn’t be pissed at someone who broke their heart, and of course only after they’d had their virginity taken, and want to stab them repeatedly in retaliation? The only difference is: Allesandra Stathos actually goes through with it.
  2. It’s A Villain Love Story! I’m totally into the idea of authors exploring the villain MC prompt more often. I feel like it’d make for a much more compelling story, plus lets be honest, we all like to explore our dark side every now and then, right? I’d love to see how far authors can go into the dark and twisted minds of a villain, and have that be the main perspective of the story. Some great examples of that off the top of my head would be The Young Elites trilogy by Marie Lu, or You (The Netflix show and novel by Caroline Kepnes). It’s a love story between two people who definitely appear as villains, and I appreciated the fact at how it was a more original idea than most of the stories that are published.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Ahh yes, every great romance has that drawn out slow burn…it moves every so slowly, infuriating you until you just want to squeeze something in your hands and feel it shatter! This book does a great job of that, and actually has a unique way of making it happen too; you too feel the burning inside along with the characters until it feels like a mere single touch will cause them both to erupt with passion. I will say though, it’s pretty tame in terms of love scenes, and feels like it has the same sexual tension of a victorian era romance where most of it is drawn from stolen looks and gazing into each other’s eyes…at least until the very end!
  4. Its Commentary on Feminism and Gender Roles! What was not expected from this book was it’s take on women and the role they play and how they measure up to their male counterparts. Allesandra goes against the idea of how a high class lady should act, and even risks her reputation by taking men into bed, and you know…even secretly murdering one too. Throughout the story, she challenges the set ways of sexism and wants a much more forward way of life, and makes a great point of how women should not be judged by what they do or don’t do in the bedroom. Men aren’t judged nearly as harshly, so why should they be? If men can go and sleep around, yet women have to wait until marriage, the math just doesn’t add up there. There was also a strong representation of female friendship. Our MC meets too ladies while staying in court, and she’s never had a pair of girlfriends before; other women have more been competition for her growing up. She develops great relationships with them as the story moves on, and even finds herself helping them in order to find happiness and love.
  5. It’s Standalone Novel! Based on how this story is set up, it’s really great that the author kept this as a single novel and isn’t going to try and make this into a series, or even a duology which is supposed to be the big thing right now for the genre/reading level. It’s not necessary to be honest, and not enough of the world is really explored outside the tightly woven plot. If the opposite were true, then maybe a duology would work, but a single novel is just perfect for this premise (plus there aren’t a whole lot of standalone YA Fantasy novels anyways).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Have We Met Before?…As the story progresses, Allesandra gets to know the King more and find herself falling in love with him a little more every day, and that part of it is fine…I’m more talking about the pure aesthetic that is the Shadow King. He’s a great character, I enjoyed him, but he just seems too similar to other characters I’ve seen before in other Fantasy Titles: He’s pretty much another copy of Rhysand from A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Darkling from The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, or even Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. They all share that same aesthetic of a ruthless dark prince-like figure who’s definitely an anti-hero if not a full on villain.
  2. Absolutely No Worldbuilding…While the romance and the plot were the main focus of this book, the setting takes a definite back seat–so much that it might as well be strapped to a car seat with a pacifier–so anyone who’s a fan of fantasy novels that are rich in detailed and well thought out lands and worlds to explore…you may want to sit this one out.
  3. It Could’ve Gone Further with the Villainous Main Characters…Allesandra starts off on a high note with her evil intentions, and even the Shadow King shows dark ambitious moments, but after awhile it’d felt like they’d lost their edge when it was becoming more and more obvious about their mutual growing attraction. I remember I had similar feelings with how Suicide Squad turned out, and wished there could’ve been more chaos with their wickedness.
  4. What About The Mystery?…I felt like the author could’ve gone further with the whole mystery aspect of the plot as to who else was trying to assassinate the king. I feel like the other villains/antagonists were way too obvious and wished their actually could’ve been more sneakiness behind the scenes amongst the court with more secrets revealed, and I would’ve loved to see scenes or moments with Allesandra trying to figure out who the killer is with her thoughts racing into paranoia. I wanted more courtly intrigue with emphasis on the members of the council and have them be even more scheming than just one character.

Conclusion:

Overall, a fun and entertaining story starring two villains as the main characters and love interests as the story; something you don’t see too often in any sort of work of fiction. Those who appreciate the darker themed stories or the anti-hero characters with obvious morally gray personalities like the characters from both The Young Elites by Marie Lu and You by Caroline Kepnes I think will really enjoy this title!

It didn’t entirely live up to the hype for me, and didn’t put as much focus into certain story components that I’d wished it had, but like I said, entertaining and binge-worthy all the same!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone Trilogy #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 2017 (Originally Published June 5th, 2012)
Number of Pages: 358 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

The world is going to know who Leigh Bardugo is as an author, I’m saying that with 100% confidence. She’s already pretty well known amongst avid readers like myself for her YA fantasy books and even her first adult fantasy novel that released back in October 2019, but ever since the announcement of a Grishaverse show coming to Netflix, arguably the most popular streaming service in the world, I was filled with euphoric glee at thinking yet another author I know and love will also become globally known.

I’d learned about Leigh Bardugo initially through her Six of Crows duology, a two-part spin-off from the original Shadow and Bone trilogy about six outcasts who must pull of the heist of the century in order to stop a deadly drug from causing ultimate chaos, and while they throw you right into the middle of the world she’d created without too much time to get too much footing or catch yourself, those books had still resonated so deeply with me based on her expertly crafted plot, her personable and relatable characters, and how well the author writes about mental illness and characters with disabilities. Each character has a richly drawn out tragic backstory that makes you feel like you really know them on a personal level. Romance also doesn’t overtake the main storyline, and has truly one of the most diverse casts of characters a reader will ever meet!

I then turned towards her first set of books and begun reading Shadow and Bone even before the Netflix announcement. Sometimes people like going backyards in terms of a writer’s work, and I’m learning I’m actually not one of those people…I tend to notice things like their craft not being as strong, and it distracts me from enjoying the story. I can’t help it, but it’s just the way I am, not going to apologize for it.

While I enjoyed this book, I did notice a lot more parts of this story that I didn’t like when compared to her later books. It was a strong story for sure, but I noticed there were a lot of clichés that you see in plenty more YA Fantasy titles, which was disappointing. I know for the market of traditional publishing, the companies like to try and have all these aspects included in titles in order to up it’s marketability, but I’ll go more into those clichés later in my review.

Starting with Six of Crows didn’t deter me from too much of her books, they stand by themselves pretty well, but there are references made towards these earlier books for sure that went over my head, and there wasn’t as much told about the Grisha (beings with special abilities) as I’d hoped. Shadow and Bone and it’s two sequels will help fill that void and help readers have a better overall understanding!

What It’s About:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Map of Ravka, aka: “The World of the Grisha”

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

What I Liked:

  1. The Darkling! He is by far the best character in the whole trilogy so far! I love those moody, brooding, dark demeanor male characters that Leigh Bardugo seems to have in all her books like Kaz Brekker in Six of Crows and Daniel Arlington in Ninth House. The Darkling is the leader of the second army, aka the army of the Grisha. When he learns about Alina and her unique powers with the Unsea and fighting off those wickedly horrendous Volcra, he has her brought to him to be brought to the palace in order to train and help hone in on her craft. He has an air of mystery to him throughout, but once you get past a certain point of the novel, his whole character becomes even more interesting and suddenly I’ve got goosebumps on my skin whenever he appears on the page!
  2. The Russian Influence! Not a whole lot of Fantasy-genre literature in general seems to lean towards Russia as a backdrop or inspiration for their setting! I admit, my only connection to the land of Putin was the beautifully done animated Anastasia movie…so yes, it’s abysmal. The setting of Ravka has some heavy Russian influence which makes these books already stand out more than a lot of the other titles out there. For those looking for something that doesn’t look out of medieval-era Europe or grimmdark Game of Thrones, definitely consider these books!
  3. The Unpredictable Plot! I’m not going to lie, but there were some twists that I truly hadn’t seen coming! It was fun to know the author could surprise me and make the story feel so much more exciting because I didn’t know what to expect to happen next!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Is WAY Too Tropey…It honestly felt like I was almost reading from a different author with all the usual YA clichés that this book was filled with! Six of Crows felt like such a more unique and original idea, so I was surprised at what I read in Shadow and Bone! Here we go with the list: We have the “chosen one” trope with Alina (the idea that the main character is the special someone who has extraordinary power to save the world in some way), and she’s also an orphan to add on top of it…Okay Harry Potter…We have it where she goes to an institute/school-like setting to practice her powers, even if it’s a palace…There’s Zoya, who’s the stunningly gorgeous token mean girl who instantly dislikes Alina because she’s a threat and steals her HBIC thunder amongst the other Grisha training…There’s the initial persona of the Darkling, who’s the dark and brooding bad boy who the “innocent and naive” heroine–Alina–can’t help but be attracted to…There’s the love triangle that kind of forms between Alina, Mal and the Darkling (Who will she end up with?!)…Like I said, these are all ideas and concepts we’ve seen before in PLENTY of other YA titles.
  2. He’s Just Not That Into You…I was unattracted to the idea of how Alina was in love with her childhood best-friend, Mal, who was completely clueless her feelings. Over the years, they’d drifted apart because he’d gotten hot, got new friends, and become popular as she’d stayed behind…At a certain point, you just ask her “Girl…what do you see in him?” Personally, I’m way more into the Darkling, but I’m also single, so there’s that…

Conclusion:

Overall, this was a fun beginning to the OG trilogy that started it all for Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse! It gives a much more detailed look into the Grisha specifically when compared to Six of Crows, and should be read first for those that like chronological order, hell, even those that prefer publication order too!

While I was disappointed in the amount of clichés that appeared in this first of three books, my love and utter adoration for SoC won’t allow me to write these books off and I for sure plan to keep going on to see what happens next. Unfortunately, since I’d read SoC first, I’m aware of a HUGE spoiler to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but I’m someone who can enjoy the journey even if I know what ends up happening at the destination.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy

My Review: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: September 20th, 2016
Number of Pages: 560 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Warning, this post contains spoilers from the first title! Continue reading at your own risk, you’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Six of Crows – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

It warms a reader’s dry, cynical heart whenever they discover a new favorite author along with all of their brilliant work. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like, but finding those books that are so much fun to dive right into, to enjoy the craft so much that someone has created, to be fully immersed in the story and have it inspire someone like me to create something that could maybe someday come close to it and continue the cycle with the next generation.

I can honestly back this book up with my high rating because it simply is amazing…It has a little bit of everything, and evoked so much emotion from me; both elated and devastated. I’m only relieved to see that it’s not just me, but almost everyone else who has reviewed this book is absolutely blown away by it. Seriously, the lowest score someone gave it on Goodreads was 3-stars…No one gave it a 1, only one person gave it a 2 star-rating, but they didn’t really justify it, so I don’t count it as being actually real…It’s seriously such epic perfection, but I still have to refrain from giving it a perfect 5-star rating because the author is a cruel, cruel woman who emotionally traumatized me and left me in a heap on the floor as I read a certain part. Seriously…I was shook, and I was NOT okay for some time after this (but I mean this in the best way possible!)

I found myself questioning how in the hell Leigh Bardugo was going to outdo herself with this next title in her Duology (now being turned into a series!) when the first book was so flippin’ impressive! She had created one of the most diverse, fabulous cast of characters in any book I’d ever read with such distinct personalities and voices, and we learn even more about them as the story continued! They are all so complex and fleshed out and truly change as the story developed. It was a masterwork of character design and development, and I want to know the moment Leigh Bardugo ever decides to teach a masterclass on how to write. I want to hear her methods and tips on the subject; any sort of money I have, it’s hers if she wants it!

One thing I wish I got more out of within the story was the surprise appearance of characters that make a short, but meaningful appearance. I’m not going to spoil exactly who they are, but I can say that they are some important players, and are some memorable characters from Leigh Bardugo’s other books. I had not read them before reading this title, so the shocking reveal of it all was kind of lost on me, but made me want to go back a step with the author’s work and check out her Shadow and Bone trilogy.

I personally recommend everyone read those, along with these, before the Netflix series comes out; I don’t know if there’s an official release date quite yet, but I seriously can’t wait to binge the day it comes on!

What It’s About:

Continuing straight off the cliffhanger ending of the previous book, Kaz and the others must rescue Inej from being kidnapped by Wylan’s corrupt father.

The other main plot is how they have Kuwei Yul Bo, the son of the creator of a powerful drug named Jurda Pardem that can control the Grisha: magical beings of the realm. With his father actually revealed to be dead, he is the only person alive who knows not only how to create the drug, but also how to destroy it, which puts a gigantic, gargantuan sized target on his back. Soon every crime boss, gangster, royal, criminal, military general, merchant, and mercenary in this dangerous world are drawn towards Ketterdam to take him away, but Kaz and his gang aren’t going to be giving him up all that easily…

What I liked:

  1. The Surprise Cameos! Mentioned earlier in this post, Bardugo shocks us with some memorable characters that some readers may recognize from other titles of hers later on in this book. I had not read her Shadow and Bone trilogy when I read Crooked Kingdom, so while the shock value was entirely lost on me, what it did reveal is that not only is her work is all connected within the same universe, it’s all happening simultaneously side by side at the same time! I love it when authors do this kind of thing and give fans little surprises to gush about; it made me want to explore other books even more! Going off of that, the author leaves the ending up in the air quite a lot of characters. It seemed like that meant we’re getting many more titles; some within this story, and even more from a new set of books she’ll write.
  2. Different Characters Get More Attention! In the previous title, we learn quite a bit about a few of the character’s backstories and how they came to be who they are before the events within the story, and in this title, we learn more about the characters we didn’t learn as much about before! It shows the author’s love of her characters to make sure she gave them each and every one of them the attention they deserve. Sure, some people could complain that they didn’t get it sooner, but as a writer, I say that everything doesn’t need to happen at once. Let it slowly reveal itself or it’ll just feel congested, clogged and not as enjoyable of a read! Good things come to those who wait!
  3. The Group’s Dynamic! I believe I mentioned this before in my previous review, but I’m serious; the alliance between the main characters and their relationships amongst each other within their group is something so pure and so much fun to read! The banter, the witty quips, the clashing personalities, the emotion, and even how they still sound like teenagers somehow within a fantasy-genre setting. Its truly a huge reason why this series is a new-found favorite of mine!
  4. A Particular Scene with Kaz! It was heavy, it was raw, it was emotional and it wasn’t something I’d really ever expect him to do, which is why it’s such a memorable scene! The shock of experiencing someone doing something that’s so unlike their character, their moral integrity, everything they stand for are great moments in literature and entertainment. While I’m even on the subject of Kaz, it’s also such a highlight to have him be the kind of character that always seems to have one step ahead of everyone. Everything could be going to hell, fires everywhere, death seems certain; Kaz will just come out of nowhere with a telling smirk that says all according to plan! What’s even better, is how at a certain point, no one is even surprised any longer; they just expect it from him!
  5. Literally Everything I said I liked about the First Title! Go see my review of Six of Crows (Link is towards the top), and every aspect I said I liked about it continues into this sequel!
  6. The Inner Conflicts Between Inej and Kaz! Inej was captured by his enemies, and the time she’s taken hostage, she questions whether Kaz will come rescue her, but also, if he’s rescuing her because he cares about her, or if he simply only wants her for her abilities. A confrontation on this inner struggle is angsty as hell, but man does it add an emotional punch and show us sides of characters we never thought we’d see!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Certain Character’s Death…Yeah…someone dies and I’m not okay about it. It left such an emotion-fueled book hangover for me, I never thought I’d get out of that depressive slump!

Conclusion:

Leigh Bardugo may have created what may be the closest thing to the perfect novel. I know this review may seem pretty one-sided, but it’s incredibly hard to find anything to really critique about this title!

Check out other reviews; the only people who (attempt) to criticize it are the ones who were even more traumatized by it than me, the ones who were even more upset about certain events that take place, so because they cried, they took it as them not liking the story, which is so bogus…Shouldn’t a story be celebrated if it evokes that much out of you? Let’s worry less about trigger warnings in fiction and celebrate the fact that something of this magnitude has been created for us to discover and enjoy and inspire!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: The Six Of Crows Series by Leigh Bardugo

In Bardugo’s fantasy realm of the Grisha, supernatural beings with the ability to manipulate different elements, are in danger as a drug has been developed that means deadly consequences, and the only person who knows the cure has been taken prisoner inside the impenetrable fortress, the Ice Court, in the Frozen northern land of Fjerda. Can Kaz Brekker and his recruits of thieves, assassins, and runaways pull off the biggest heist in history?

To see my review of book #1: Six of Crows – Click here!

To see my review of book #2: Crooked Kingdom – Click here!

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Kaz Brekker: Ben Barnes

Image courtesy of bleedingcool.com

I mean, does this image alone NOT give you Kaz Brekker vibes? Sure, Ben Barnes seems older for this role and he’s officially casted as the Darkling on the Netflix show, but I’d made this casting choice before the show was even a thought, and I think he could perfectly exude that dark and twisty vibe that Kaz constantly exudes as he plots against his enemies. The former Prince Caspian, Westworld, & The Punisher actor, in my mind is perfect for this role!

Inej Ghafa: Kelly Gale

Image courtesy of weheartit.com

I know this won’t be a popular choice, but imagined Inej with a really particular look, and this Indian/Australian model looked very much like what I imagined “The Wraith” to appear as.

Wylan Van Eck: Daniel Sharman

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

I know this may also not be a popular choice, but I’ve always seen Daniel play the arrogant bad-boy in The Originals, and Teen Wolf, but I’m curious to see him play a role thats the total opposite of that! Let’s stop typecasting, yeah?

Jasper Fahey: Kendrick Sampson

Image courtesy of the actor’s Twitter profile

He’s a go-to POC guy for me, I know…but I imagined what him and Daniel Sharman looked like together and I couldn’t help but ship it! See him make appearances in shows like How to Get Away with Murder, The Vampire Diaries, and Supernatural to name a few!

Matthias Helvar: Wyatt Nash

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

This guy sneaks around and becomes a side character for SO many shows that I watch! Catch him in Netflix’s Dear White People, GLOW, and he also was recently added to Riverdale! Others may go for a Kellan Lutz type of guy, but remember that Matthias has been in prison for some time when we meet him, the dude isn’t going to be shredded or jacked, he’s going to have thinned out a bit, but still be just as blond and handsome as we believe!

Nina Zenik: Robyn Lawley

Image courtesy of fashionmodeldirectory.com

Nina was the hardest character to cast for this group! There aren’t a whole lot of plus-sized actresses or models that I felt matched Nina’s physical description and also could possibly exude her sensual confidence! I initially had plus-size model Tara Lynn as a casting choice, but now I’ve updated to this other plus-sized model. She’s Australia’s top plus-sized model, and has even been featured in Ralph Lauren ads!

Pekka Rollins: Aidan Gillen

Image courtesy of superstarsbio.com

Leader of the Den Lions, an enemy gang to the Dregs lead by Kaz; he’s an overall douche-wad with some serious power in Ketterdam, so I thought the man who played the slimiest character in Game of Thrones, Littlefinger, would be perfect for this role!

Jan Van Eck: Martin Henderson

Image courtesy of UPI.com

Another powerful man in Ketterdam, he’s Wylan’s father and one of the most influential merchants in this series. While being a complete asshole, the man is still described as being pretty easy on the eyes, and after watching him in Grey’s Anatomy, I thought this Kiwi actor from New Zealand would be a good choice!

Tante Heleen: Betty Gilpin

Image courtesy of deadline.com

After enjoying her in the Women’s wrestling show on Netflix GLOW, I thought she’d be a great person to cast as the despicable brothel owner who used to physically torment Inej back when she was a sex slave.

Per Haskell: Skeet Ulrich

Image courtesy of weheartit.com

The former leader of the Dregs before Kaz took over; he’s a moody, drunken, greedy man who’s a shell of his former glory. Watching him in play Southside Serpent Gang Leader FP Jones in the CW’s Riverdale, Skeet seemed like a safe choice. I’d just ask him to turn it down on the rugged charm and endearing fatherly moments!

Jarl Brum: Tom Hardy

Image courtesy of nytimes.com

Leader of the Drüskelle (the Fjerdan organization formed to eradicate Grisha), and Mathias’s former mentor, he’s a ruthless witch hunter who’s extremely dangerous! Tom Hardy is an incredibly versatile actor, and I think he’d be great with playing this military general.

Kuwei Yul-Bo: BooBoo Stewart

Image courtesy of fanpop.com

Jordie Rietvold: Ben Schnetzer

Credit to owner

He was the overall favorite to play Kaz’s older brother in almost EVERY other fancast I found, So I thought I’d continue the bandwagon because I do see it immensely.

Dunyasha Lazareva: Alyssa Campanella

Image courtesy of celebuzz.com

She’s a gorgeous, scarlet-haired assassin who’s known as “The White Blade.” Pekka Rollins and Jan Van Eck hired personally as a lethal contender to go up against Inej, who believes her to be her shadow; her other half, the flip side of the coin, the ying to her yang, you get the picture. She’s not an actress, but the former Miss USA winner sure looks the part!

Genya Safin: Miguelle Landry

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

Another gorgeous redhead, this Tailor Grisha makes a surprise appearance in Crooked Kingdom along with some other noteworthy characters from the Shadow and Bone trilogy! Again, not an actual actress, but give this model some ember colored contacts, and she’d for sure look the part!

Nikolai Lantsov: Lucas Bloms

Image courtesy of adonmag.com

Oh Nikolai…one of Leigh Bardugo’s masterpieces, besides the Six of Crows duology in general, and this male model could definitely take on the role of Sturmhond!

Zoya Nazyalenksy: Shay Mitchell

Credit to owner

Shay Mitchell is a personal favorite of mine since I’d first seen her in Pretty Little Liars, and she wowed me too when she was in the first season of You on Netflix. She’s so absolutely gorgeous, and just throw on a pair of blue eye contacts and she’d be a perfect Zoya!

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Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy

My Review: Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: September 29th 2015
Number of Pages: 465 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

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!

A Map of Bardugo’s Grishaverse, image courtesy of fandom’s wiki page

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.

A map of Ketterdam, image courtesy of the Grishaverse wiki page

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.

The impenetrable Ice Court in Fjerda, image courtesy of the Grishaverse fandom wiki page

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 Grisha:

The world has magical beings called “Grisha,” who have the abilities to practice magical powers. There are three classifications: Corporalki, Etheralki, and Materialki.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Conclusion:

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